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USC (5-0: 13-2) at Arizona (4-2; 11-4)
Thursday night in McKale Center, Tucson, Arizona. Tip-off is set for 8:30 MST.
Last time out: Arizona-Won its sixth game decided by five or fewer points in a 74-69 victory over Washington in Seattle. Jason Gardner led the way with 21 points...USC-Dominated the offensive glass in its 81-77 win over crosstown rival UCLA to take over sole possession of first place in the Pac-10. Trojan forwards Sam Clancy (19 points, 12 rebounds) and David Bluthenthal (16 points, 18 rebounds) were the two keys in the victory.
One of Arizona's obvious weaknesses is defending teams with big, athletic wing players. Oregon's Luke Jackson and Freddie Jones as well as Washington's Doug Wrenn have proven that theory to be true in recent games. However, the misconception is that the Wildcats struggle against strong power forwards and other versatile post players.
USC's Sam Clancy (6-7, 250) is built like an NFL tight end and many foresee him dominating his matchup against Arizona.
However, the same was supposed to be true when Arizona faced guys like Lonny Baxter (Maryland), Udonis Haslem (Florida), Chris Owens (Texas) and Robert Archibald (Illinois). Last time I checked, the Wildcats came out of those games 4-0 and more than held their own down low. The same could very well happen again come Thursday night.
For now, though, let's take a closer look at the matchups:
PG-Jason Gardner (5-10, 185) vs. Brandon Granville (5-9, 175)
*Both dimnuitive lead guards are versatile from their position. However, Gardner is the better scorer while Granville is the better playmaker. Granville has had turnover problems in the past, but since the start of conference play, he has an impressive 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which Lute Olson calls, "outstanding". Gardner has had trouble getting off to quick starts lately and needs to come out looking to score more in the early going if the Cats want to make a statement in this game.
-EDGE: Gardner (Arizona), slightly.
SG-Salim Stoudamire (6-1, 180) vs. Errick Craven (6-2, 190)
*Probably the best matchup of freshmen that the conference will see all year. Salim is a better shooter and more under control, while Craven is more explosive and creates more havoc defensively. The Trojan freshman also is more of a factor on the boards, averaging nearly five rebounds per game. The difference here could be Stoudamire's comfort level of shooting at home. Either way, this will be a very intense and exciting matchup.
SF-Luke Walton (6-8, 235) vs. David Bluthenthal (6-7, 235)
*This matchup is a microcosm of how the entire game will be: very even and too close to call. Walton's game is getting everyone involved offensively, hitting the glass and scoring on turnarounds or close leaners in the lane. Bluthenthal likes to shoot more from the outside (and is getting hotter as the year progresses) while attacking the boards for rebounds (almost eight per game). Bluthenthal is a very good all-around player but not quite as good as Walton. Walton simply makes more plays and is more important to his team's well-being. That said, this matchup is still too close to call.
PF-Rick Anderson (6-9, 225) vs. Sam Clancy (6-7, 250)
*Here's where it gets tricky. Clancy would clearly cause serious problems defensively for Anderson with his bulk and his inside-outside game but Olson says that Arizona will likely counter Clancy with Luke Walton to start the game. If that happens, Arizona will be much better off because Anderson isn't as likely to get into early foul trouble guarding the perimeter-oriented Bluthenthal as he would defending Clancy in the post. Even so, Clancy is an absolute monster in nearly every aspect of the game. He scores, rebounds, gets steals and blocks shots. Walton or Anderson will both struggle against the stronger Clancy and that's not even including the fact that he's out for redemption after Arizona ("kicked his tail", as Olson said) last year at USC. In that game, Clancy went 0-5 and didn't score. That will change in a hurry Thursday night.
-EDGE: Clancy (USC)
C-Channing Frye (6-11, 230) vs. Kostas Charissis (6-11, 220)
*Charissis may be the starter for USC but he only gets about ten minutes of playing time per game. The rest of the time the Trojans generally bring in sophomore wing Desmon Farmer at the three and that moves Bluthenthal and Clancy to the four and five spots, respectively ("With that lineup, they are athletic at every position", Olson said). However, when Charissis is in the game and matching up against Frye, it should be Frye's for the taking. He is much more skilled, more aggressive and a better defensive presence than his Trojan counterpart.
-EDGE: Frye (Arizona)
What to look for:
*USC will deploy a three-man perimeter attack throughout the majority of the game with Granville, Craven and Farmer playing together a lot. The Trojans can really "get after you", as Olson says, when those three are on the floor at the same time. Arizona has had trouble matching up with bigger wings, but this time only the 6-4 Farmer is considered "big". Arizona should fare better than it has against Oregon's Jones/Jackson combination and Washington's Wrenn.
*Arizona not to duplicate its prior first half performance at home against Oregon State. The Cats realize just how important playing well in this game is both for a potential win and for building towards games against UCLA and the rest of the schedule. The key to getting off to a good start is Gardner's scoring, the rest of the team staying out of foul trouble and every player feeding off the McKale Center crowd.
*Good defensive games from Wildcat freshmen post players Dennis Latimore and Isaiah Fox...because there is no other choice. If Frye, Anderson and/or Walton are on the bench, Latimore and Fox MUST play well defensively against Clancy or the Trojans will exploit that matchup all night long.
*Channing Frye to get more looks at the basket and to capitalize against the shorter (however athletic) Trojans. Because Charissis will probably be on the bench for 30 of the game's 40 minutes, Frye has a chance to use his four-inch height advantage over Clancy to his favor. Clancy is an outstanding shot blocker, though, and will give Frye fits unless the Wildcat freshman makes quick moves after catching the ball in the lane. Also, since Clancy is a known shot blocker, Frye would be better off utilizing periodic pump fakes to get Clancy in the air and to potentially get him into foul trouble.
This game should be a classic and could be one of the all-time greats in the series against the Trojans. Both teams have different strengths and weaknesses but when it comes down to it, the home court advantage should play a major role.
Prediction: Arizona 82, USC 80
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