Daniel Hackett is set to resume practice and could see action this weekend against the Arizona schools. Hackett is probably the steadiest and most important player on this team. On the court, USC has missed his defense, rebounding, ball-handling, toughness, and leadership, but his absence has also given freshman PG Angelo Johnson more time to develop. Johnson has played nearly every minute of every game since Hackett went down with that back injury on January 31st against Arizona. Johnson appears to finding his comfort level and has been steadily knocking down open jump shots thanks to the attention O.J. Mayo regularly draws as well as the dominant play inside from Taj Gibson. Hackett must be ready to go because any back injury is a serious one, but don't expect him to come back and start. If Hackett can come in and contribute some quality minutes, then that, along with guard Marcus Simmons' return, means that Coach Tim Floyd can afford to rest the backcourt trio of Johnson, Mayo, and Dwight Lewis without suffering any let down.
As far as Thursday's game goes, we're in for a tough one. Arizona has always been tough to beat at home, so don't expect this one to be any different. The Trojans and the 'Cats have arrived to this game by similar paths. Both teams have played difficult schedules (Arizona ranks #1 nationally in strength of schedule), both teams got off to slow starts in Pac-10 play [U of A (1-3), USC (0-3)], and both teams are also banged up. The Cats are still without guard Nic Wise, who had a big game against the Trojans at Galen Center. USC (17-9, 8-6) is one game ahead of both the Wildcats (17-10, 7-7) and Arizona State, who they play on Saturday, in the Pac-10 standings and can create some separation with a sweep this weekend. Let's go out and get the first one fellas!
The key to tomorrow's game, make Chase Budinger play defense. If he gets matched up against Davon Jefferson, he needs to attack the rim and get him in foul trouble. It is much too difficult to defend both Budinger and PG Jerryd Bayless, so we to get one of them out of the game. Bayless is likely to get his, he's put up 30+ points in a couple of losses, and he always has the ball in his hands, but Budinger can be contained if they try hard enough. Be sure to tune in, the game will be televised nationally on ESPN at 6pm Pacific, hopefully my boy Jay Bilas will call the game.
Fight On! Beat the Wildcats!