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!