Junior forward Nick Rakocevic rises for the slam against Long Beach State. (Josh Dunst / Daily Trojan)It was a tale of two halves as an undermanned USC team relied on its defense and veteran leadership to defeat Stanford 77-66 and start Pac-12 play 2-0.From the 3-point line to inside the paint, Bennie Boatwright was creating offense from everywhere in the second half. After foul trouble kept the senior forward out for much of the first half, Boatwright attacked in the second, posting 15 of his 22 total points.“Boatwright played exceptional basketball and he just gave us a calming influence on the offensive end,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He played like an all-league player.”USC needed Boatwright’s explosion after halftime as the second half couldn’t have been more different from the first for the Trojans. After allowing just 21 total first-half points, USC allowed 25 Stanford points within the first 10 minutes of the second half. Stanford shot 59 percent from the field and 8-for-18 from deep after halftime. “Stanford shoots the ball at such a high level and in the second half they made quite a few of them,” Enfield said.USC failed to match Stanford’s high shooting level, as the Trojans shot just 4-for-15 from deep and kept the Cardinal in the game for much of the night. Despite struggling to make outside shots, Enfield could depend on the steady hand of junior forward Nick Rakocevic.“Nick is playing great basketball. He’s really matured,” Enfield said.“Great basketball” is an understatement for the level of play Rakocevic has been demonstrating since the team entered Pac-12 play.Rakocevic scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Trojans to a win in their conference opener against California. That hot hand carried over as he then posted 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, making the junior a legitimate contender for Pac-12 Player of the Week. Soft hands on pick-and-roll dives and a few quick post moves helped the 6-foot-11 junior forward carry the Trojan offense to start the game. Proving to be a challenge for Stanford’s 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Oscar da Silva and too quick for the 7-foot center Josh Sharma, Rakocevic carried USC’s offense for much of the first half as he posted 12 of his 23 points in the first 10 minutes of the game.Complementing the big man pairing of Boatwright and Rakocevic was senior point guard Derryck Thornton.“[Thornton] really controlled the game the last 10, 11 minutes and that’s why we won,” Enfield said.Thornton followed up on his career-high 12-assist night against California with another impressive outing as the Trojans’ floor general, dished out nine dimes to accompany his 13 points. The senior point guard has accounted for 21 assists in the Trojans’ first pair of conference games.Offense wasn’t the only way Thornton dictated the game; he and junior guard Jonah Mathews set the tone on the defensive end, operating as the savvy upperclassmen at the top of the 2-3. Pesky defense and filling passing lanes led the upperclassmen duo to four steals and paved the way for 20 points off turnovers for the Trojans.The Trojans entered conference play with a roster depleted due to injuries to star freshman guards Kevin Porter Jr. (quad) and Elijah Weaver (ankle), along with the transfer of sophomore wing Jordan Usher. But strong veteran play has allowed USC undefeated two games into Pac-12 play.The Trojans will head off to their first road game of conference play, as they square off against Oregon State on Jan. 10.