Monday, February 23, 2009

Missed Opportunity: USC loses to UW 60-51

(photo: Yahoo! Sports)

The Trojans appeared to be on their way to a big time victory over Pac-10 leading Washington after jumping out to an early 22-11 lead. Coach Tim Floyd did an excellent job of getting his team ready for this game. USC was the aggressor early on--looking dominant, focused, and well-prepared--but twice failed to put the Huskies away. Washington is a very good basketball team, but they should not have been able to walk out of the Galen Center with a victory. USC gave this game away during two critical stretches. The first came in the final 12 minutes of the first half, when the Huskies outscored the Trojans 20-6 and went into the lockerroom with a 31-28 lead. Nevertheless, the Trojans recovered and regained the lead in the second half. With 5:30 remaining in the game, USC led 50-46. Unfortunately, they only managed to score one point the rest of the way, compared to 14 for Washington. As a result, the Trojans fell to (16-10 overall, 7-7 Pac-10) and are now in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Is the season over? Well, I'd say no, but that is entirely up to the players.

More after the jump!

(photo: Yahoo! Sports)
To say that USC's hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA's are slim would be an understatement, but this season is far from over. Guard Daniel Hackett has been criticized for his struggles at the point guard position, but you can't question his effort and toughness that he brings to the court every game. A win against the Huskies would have quieted some of those critics, but more importantly, it would have been enough to save the Trojans' season. Perhaps sensing that, Hackett and other players vented their frustrations following the loss to Washington. Many would say that the team is falling apart, and that may be the case, but I think it shows that the players care enough about the game and simply hate losing. If the Trojans are going to make a final push for the NCAA Tournament, Hackett's leadership will be the catalyst. As is stands right now, USC remains in sixth place with four games left to play. The team hits the road this week for the final time this season to play Cal (Thu) and Stanford (Sat) before returning home to close out the regular season against the Oregon schools. Those all are very winnable games. Tim Floyd's teams have not quit on him before, so I expect them to come out with the same kind of heart and desire as they have all season. Plus, getting Marcus Johnson back from injury would not hurt either. Let's not worry about winning out and all these scenarios, let's just take them one at a time.

Fight On! Beat the Bears!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

USC Basketball returns to Galen Center

At the midpoint of the Pac-10 schedule, Coach Tim Floyd and his Trojans were feeling pretty good about their NCAA Tournament prospects. USC was in 3rd place in the Pac-10 at (6-3, 15-6 overall) and just one game behind conference leading Washington and fucla. Then came a brutal 3-game road trip against fucla (lost 60-76), Arizona (lost 76-83), and Arizona State (lost 53-65). The Trojans have fallen to sixth place in the conference and are in danger of being left out of the NCAA Tournament. Prior to that aforementioned road trip, the Trojans learned that forward Marcus Johnson had injured his rotator cuff in the victory of Cal and would be out indefinitely. Guard Daniel Hackett and the other starters have logged heavy minutes due to the myriad of injuries this team has faced. Nonetheless, this is just another hurdle for a team that has faced adversity all season. But now is time for the guys to regroup and make their final push for the Big Dance. USC has a big home stand this week against the Washington schools. Considering the circumstances, this home stand could not have come at a better time.

More after the jump!

Though many teams in the country would have been swept by those same 3 teams, many fans are getting restless or have given up on this season completely. Don't forget that Marcus Johnson, who was starting to emerge as a big-time player, did not play in all 3 of those losses. Also, the Pac-10 now appears to be much deeper and more talented than it was earlier in the season. This could be a blessing in disguise for the Trojans, as the increased strength of the conference will help USC build its NCAA Tournament profile. USC has a chance to earn quality wins at home (Saturday vs. UW) and on the road (next week at Cal), as well as in the Pac-10 Tournament. Furthermore, the Trojans are hitting the softest part of their conference schedule with 4 of their remaining 6 games at home. However, every game is crucial as teams make their final push for the Tournament. USC's Road to the Final Four continues this Thursday against Washington State, a hard-nosed team that will be very tough to beat. There are only 4 home games left, so let's get behind our team and see them close this thing out.

Fight On! Beat the Cougars!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bruin Cameo

UCLA forward Nikola Dragovic took some time away from basketball last summer to work as a stunt coordinator in the newly released sci-fi action film Push, starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning. Dragovic earned critical acclaim for his roll in a November 7th incident last year, that instantly put him in the spotlight. "Push. One Push Can Change Everything."

Fuck the Bruins!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Santa Delivers

Today has been a great day for Trojan fans. Santa delivered the goods in a big way today, handing the coaches every player on their wish list. Well almost every player. Their was one Christmas Day disappointment. Coach Carroll walked outside and to his dismay the Lexus with the red ribbon wasn't there. Apparently there was a mix-up with the address and the Lexus was sent to South Bend. Oh well. I highly doubt Carroll and Co. will shed any tears, for Santa's delivery featured enough luxury and horsepower to put the Detroit Auto Show to shame.

Jawanza Starling
Safety || 6'2" 195lb
Tallahassee, FL (Lincoln)

All of our verbals that were expected to sign, lived up to their verbal commitment. Ashlon Jeffrey and Vontaze Burfict, both of whom were expect to sign elsewhere did in fact sign elsewhere. Ashlon will stay home in SEC country to play at the University of South Carolina, and Vontaze will stay in the Pac-10 to play for the Sun Devils. There were 4 very pleasant signing day surprises. Byron Moore reaffirmed his commitment to the Trojans after having decommitted to take official visits to ND and Colorado. Carroll was also very successful in the South, hauling in 3 defensive studs on signing day, S Janawnza Starling, LB Jarvis Jones, and OLB Frankie Telfort. I've been watching highlights of these 3 guys all morning and I can't wait to see these guys in Cardinal & Gold during fall camp. We'll have a thorough wrap up of signing day later, introducing all the new Trojans.

There are still a couple players left on the Trojans big board that have yet to announce their college decision. Orson Charles, a "big body" TE from Flordia, plans to visit USC in the coming weeks. Here's hoping that Carroll and Co. can pull another coup in the south and scoop up Charles from Tampa.

Fight On!

And Kill the bRuins!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Christmas in February

With less than 8 hours until National Signing Day commences, Carroll and his troops are prepping themselves for an all-nighter. We here at USC Sports Talk are just as excited for the big day. Tomorrow is the first day that Trojan fans can embrace the future generation of new Trojans, a new legion of Trojan Warriors. I will wish the best of luck to most of the prospects considering USC whom decide to attend school elsewhere (I cannot speak for RG3), however their are some that will forever draw the disdain of Trojans fans should they turn their backs on the Trojan Family. I can only hope that said athletes decide to attend a university outside of the Pac-10 as to avoid a similar fate as MeSean Jackson....

Fight On!

Game Preview: USC at UCLA

USC (15-6, 6-3) at UCLA (17-4, 7-2)-- Wednesday 2/4, 7:30pm on FSN

In the first meeting, the bRuins defeated the Trojans 64-60 at the Galen Center, improving to (3-0) in the Pac-10 and delivering another heartbreaking defeat to USC fans. Adding insult to injury, the Trojans are now 0-for-3 at Galen against fucla. USC, coming off a disappointing loss at Oregon State, fell to (1-2) in the Pac-10 after that loss and faced an uphill climb in the conference standings. The fucla game was a hard fought battle between two bitter rivals. It looked as though it would be a long night for the Trojans as USC fell behind early 19-8, but they fought their way back. The Trojans finished the first half strong and cut the bRuins lead to 33-31 at the half. USC came out strong in the second half, using a 12-0 run to take a 43-37 lead with 15:19 minutes left in the game. However, playing without forward Leonard Washington, the Trojans appeared to run out of gas at the end. Guard Dwight Lewis had a night to forget, finishing 2-for-11 from the field and getting beat numerous times defensively. Nonetheless, USC played hard all game and showed just how good it can be, despite Lewis' struggles and a short bench. Since then, Coach Tim Floyd has guided the Trojans to wins in 5 out of the last 6, including a sweep of the Arizona and Bay Area schools at home. The only loss during that stretch was to Washington, who is tied with fucla for 1st in the Pac-10. Both the bRuins and the Trojans have been playing well lately, so it will be interesting to see how the return game at pauley pavilion unfolds.

More after the jump!

Lack of depth was a problem for the Trojans in the first match up. As mentioned above, Washington was out with an ankle injury, but at the time USC did not have the bench play that it has gotten recently out of players like Marcus Johnson and Nikola Vucevic. Taj Gibson got into foul trouble early in the first half, but the Trojans played through it thanks to Demar Derozan and his 11 first half points. The Trojans bench is much better now, but as you've probably read by now, Johnson's status for Wednesday is questionable with a right shoulder injury. Ben Howland usually goes 9-10 players deep in his rotation, so hopefully Marcus will be ready to go. Assuming Johnson is close to 100%, the Trojans will be healthy, something that it was not in the first game.
The bench will be key in this game, but the following is what I believe will determine to game.

USC Game Plan

(1) Avoid Turnovers. First and foremost, USC must handle fucla's defensive pressure and limit the turnovers. In their last game versus Stanford, fucla forced 19 turnovers that resulted in 25 points and a 97-63 blow out victory of the Cardinal. USC's guards have been shaky all season in the turnover department, but they have been doing a better job of taking care of the ball. In the first match up against the bRuins, USC did a pretty good job protecting the ball, turning it over only 8 times. The players must be strong with the ball and not make any lazy passes. Protecting the ball will also limit fucla's transition opportunities and fastbreak points, something there offense relies upon.
Coach Floyd needs to really stress this in practice and tell his players to help the ballhandler when Howland decides to pressure the ball.

(2) Don't Let Collison Beat You. This might be equally important to #1. The Trojans must contain bRuins point guard Darren Collison, who carved USC's defense for 18 points and 6 assists in the last meeting. He is not only their leader, but he is the facillitator of that offense. How Collison goes, usually the bRuins go. I don't care how USC defends him, as long as Floyd does not put Lewis on him again. Lewis struggles mightily against smaller, quicker players and had lots of trouble staying in front of Collison during the first meeting at Galen. Collison is one of the best point guards in the country, but I believe Floyd and his staff will have a sound defensive game plan for him.

(3) Defend the 3. Next, USC must defend the perimeter with the same intensity that they did against Cal. This is not easy to accomplish. It requires toughness and determination. Perimeter defense means fighting through screens, communicating defensively, and rotating when the ball is passed around. If the Trojans can contain the 3 point shooting, then they will negate another important part of fucla's offense. Nikola Dragovich, who made 3 from beyond the arc in the first match up, has been deadly from outside in the past few games. If the Trojans surrender open looks from 3 against a team who thrives at home, then it will be a long night.

(4) One more thing...BELIEVE! The Trojans have gone toe-to-toe with fucla the last several meetings. The bRuins are not invincible (right Florida?). Remember last season? Davon Jefferson and company marched into pauley pavilion last year and stomped the bRuins 72-63. It's time for Trojans and bRuins again. Let's hoop it up!

Fight On! Beat the bRuins!

USC's Marcus Johnson Questionable vs bRuins

Just when the Trojan basketball team appears to be getting healthy and playing its best basketball, news came Monday that senior guard/forward Marcus Johnson's status is questionable for Wednesday's big showdown in Westwood. The former UConn transfer has seen his minutes increase with each game since becoming eligible in December and has been a key contributor for a USC team that has won 5 of its last 6 games and 10 of its last 13. Johnson is being treated for a right shoulder injury, so hopefully it is not serious and he can get back as soon as possible. The Trojans currently sit in third place in the Pac-10, just one game behind conference leading Washington and fucla, but need a full squad to be able to pull of the upset. More after the jump!

After a handful of games, Marcus has become my favorite player on the team. The former Westchester High star brings some of the same toughness that his old high school teammates like USC's own Gabe Pruitt and the Lakers' Trevor Ariza provide. Like Pruitt and Ariza, Johnson is an outstanding defender and electrifying in the open court. We've all seen his amazing dunks by now (check the previous post), so maybe his shoulder is sore from dunking on people. Or maybe he injured himself on this play, where he blocked a dunk attempt by Cal's Jordan Wilkes...

He also has a quiet, but confident demeanor that I like about him. Check out this short interview with Marcus following the Cal game last Saturday.

Get healthy soon Marcus.

Fight On! Beat the bRuins!

Monday, February 2, 2009

USC Jumps Over Cal 73-62

(photo: Yahoo! Sports)
What a game! A healthier, re-energized USC team won its 3rd straight game. The Trojans clamped down defensively on one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, holding the Cal Golden Bears to just 2-16 (12.5%) from beyond the arc. With the win, the Trojans improved their record to (15-6) overall and (6-3) in the Pac-10 moved into sole possession of third place. The Trojans are just one game behind conference leaders Washington and fucla, but have a chance to even the score by beating the bRuins at pauley pavilion this Wednesday.

More after the jump!

Freshman Demar Derozan led the way for the Trojans with 19 points, but he deserves praise for his outstanding defensive play. Marcus Johnson, who finished with 6 points, set the tone early with yet another thunderous dunk. The senior transfer from UConn took a fastbreak pass from Daniel Hackett and then skied over Cal defender Jorge Gutierrez, who would hear it from the student section the rest of the night, and electrified the crowd with the amazing dunk. Despite Derozan's team-high 19 points, the Trojans featured a balanced scoring attack offensively. Hackett had another solid game at the point with 14 points, big man Taj Gibson posted his 11th double-double this season with 12 points and 13 rebounds, and junior guard Dwight Lewis added 12 points. You can watch the highlights from Fox Sports here.

The Trojans appear to be hitting their stride as we turn the basketball calendar to February. The team is getting healthy, and as a result, their play has been steadily improving. This month is crucial for the Trojans' post-season aspirations. Five of the next seven games are on the road, beginning with fucla this Wednesday. The Trojans know they can play with the bRuins after winning at pauley last season and losing a close one 64-60 at Galen Center on January 11. We'll have a preview of the game by Tuesday night.

Fight On! Beat the Bruins!