USC Preview

In a real critical game for both teams, UCLA takes on USC at Pauley Pavilion Thursday. It could be a sign of how each team plays through the rest of the Pac-10...

UCLA (15-6, 7-4) takes on USC (16-5, 8-3) Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion (7:30 start time) in the first in a series of games that will ultimately sort out the ranking of the top 6 teams in a very tight Pac-10 race. Oregon is 9-2 in the Pac-10, USC and Arizona are 8-3, UCLA is 7-4, and Stanford and Cal are at 6-4. Oregon plays at Stanford and Cal this week, while Arizona hosts the Washington schools.

USC is still pretty much the same team that beat UCLA 81-77 at the Forum on January 10, except that they're shooting the ball much better from the outside. Offensively, the Trojans run a high post game with some flex sets. They love to set a screen on the strong side of the key and have Sam Clancy, 6-7 240 SR PF (18.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 50% FGs, 59.7% FTs), come go over or under it and establish himself on the baseline as the ball is reversed to the wing on the other side of the key. Sam then gets a bounce pass for the easy score with a defender trapped behind his enormous booty. Sam can also step outside and hit a turnaround J out to 15 feet and a straight up J out to 19 feet. Both Kostas Charissis, 6-11 250 SR C (2.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 45.9% FGs) and Rory O'Neill, 6-11 220 FR C (4.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 53.2% FGs) can hit the 17-footer. Rory might, in fact, have the sweetest shooting touch of any big man in the conference (don't hurt me, Curtis or Channing!).

Brandon Granville, 5-9 175 SR PG (13.1 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 40.5% FGs, 75.8% FTs, 40.2% 3s), will run the old-fashioned UCLA shuffle-cut off a high screen and either bomb in the 3 or penetrate into the lane and draw defenders. Errick Craven, 6-2 170 FR SG (11.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 44.2% FGs, 68.9% FTs, 32.4% 3s), and Desmon Farmer, 6-4 225 SO SG/SF (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 46.9% FGs, 68.3% FTs, 36% 3s) will feed Sam from the wing, set picks in the lane and set up outside to either bomb in the 3 or make an acrobatic drive along the baseline. David Bluthenthal, 6-7 220 SR SF/PF (11.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 39.4% FGs, 78.8% FTs, 39.5% 3s) is the team's most versatile Trojan. Although he has not shot the ball all that well inside the arc, he has some good low post moves and he's a superior 3-point shooter with deep NBA range. As UCLA fans know all too well, USC generates a lot of baskets from offensive rebounds by David and Sam (and Errick and Desmon).

Other players for USC include hyper-athlete Jerry Dupree, 6-7 200 SO SF/PF (3.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg), solid backup point Robert Hutchinson, 6-1 195 JR PG (2.5 ppg, 1.9 apg), and a good young power prospect, Nick Curtis, 6-8 220 FR PF (1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg).

UCLA will defend USC with a 1-2-2 matchup zone that in this case will look a lot like a sagging man d. Dan Gadzuric will front Sam Clancy inside and try to force him to go outside to hit Js. Every Bruin, and not just the perimeter players, will have a matchup assignment as UCLA hopes to keep better track of the Trojans off the ball in order to control the offensive glass. The Bruins will leave Errick Craven and Desmon Farmer open all night and dare them to beat UCLA from behind the arc. Brandon Granville and David Bluthenthal will not be left wide open. Kostas Charissis and Rory O'Neill will probably see some open looks early. The Bruins will stop giving them open looks if they knock down some shots. Errick and Desmon will stay open all night.

On offense, UCLA will try to maintain its composure against the Trojan ¾ zone trap press. Once the Bruins have beaten the pressure, they're supposed to run their 1-4 when USC is in a man and their zone offense when USC is in a zone (USC will switch back forth throughout the game, sometimes quite rapidly). USC's interior defense seems to break down if the Trojans are forced to make more than 3 switches (the Cal game was a classic example), and if UCLA runs its 1-4 with patience and discipline, that will break the Trojans down and wear them out, especially on long shots at the other end of the floor. On the other hand, if USC is able to get some quick turnovers and UCLA falls into the trap of taking its shots early in the shot clock, the Trojans will not only get some easy baskets in transition, but they will keep their legs fresh throughout the game and that might enable them to still get hot from 3 in the second half.

Jason Kapono, 6-7 215 JR SF (17.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 48% FGs, 86.2% FTs, 46.8% 3s), Billy Knight, 6-4 200 SR SG (15.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 spg, 46.6% FGs, 81.4% FTs, 44.1% 3s), and Matt Barnes, 6-8 230 SR SF/PF (13.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 50% FGs, 61.8% FTs, 42.1% 3s) are UCLA's 3 best players. All of them are in a shooting slump from behind the arc, and Matt's FT% has plummeted over a hundred points in the last 3 weeks. These Bruins need to work for good shots, and that means working the shot clock, and cutting, spacing and passing with precision.

Dan Gadzuric, 6-11 240 SR C (10.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 55.8% FGs, 46.3% FTs), needs to stay out of foul trouble and be a big factor inside at both ends of the floor. In Pac-10 games, Dan has been averaging 13.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg, a huge improvement from his 3.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg over the first 6 games of the season. The Trojans are foul-averse inside and their Cs aren't physical, so Dan could have a huge game if the Trojans can't force UCLA to turn the ball over or hurry their shots. He had 16 rebounds the last time these 2 teams met, but none of UCLA's jump shooters would pass him the ball.

Ced Bozeman, 6-7 FR PG (3.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 42% FGs, 21.4% FTs, 30.8% 3s) is now primarily responsible for making sure that the Bruins pass the ball with precision and that the shooters have the ball in their hands at the right time. In his 6 conference starts, Ced has 30 assists (5 assists per game) and 15 turnovers, which gives him the second best assist to turnover ratio in the Pac-10 behind only USC's Brandon Granville. Ced's defense up top has also helped the Bruins hold opponents to less than 25% shooting from 3 in 4 of the last 6 games. Ced will have to work with Matt to break the Trojan pressure and initiate the Bruin offense. On d, he must stick with Brandon Granville like glue. Although 30.8% is a decent 3-point percentage for a FR PG coming off knee surgery (compare it to Errick Craven's), Ced needs to become more of a scoring factor on offense, especially in taking smaller guards to the rack and hitting his FTs.

The Bruins will use TJ Cummings, 6-9 225 SO PF (9.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 53.9% FGs, 73.3% FTs, 33.3% 3s), Dijon Thompson, 6-7 FR SF (4.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Andre Patterson, 6-6 FR PF (2.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Ryan Walcott, 6-0 FR PG (1.3 ppg, 0.6 apg) and Rico Hines, 6-4 SR SG/SF (0.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg) off the bench. In what order, I have no idea. Actually, I can probably guess that TJ and Dijon will be the first 2 players off the bench. When Ced goes out, Ryan will likely come in for at least a few minutes, though Jason will also play some point again. The problem with the Bruin bench is that TJ, Dijon, Andre and Ryan are the 4 least disciplined players on the team (not surprising; 3 are FR and one is a SO), so the team invariably plays less efficiently when they are on the floor (the Oregon debacle was a notable exception). The Bruins' immediate future depends on getting more productive minutes from some or all of these 5 players.

The first UCLA/USC game was pretty close. USC is shooting the ball better, just in time to face an improved Bruin zone. UCLA brings in a real PG just in time to face USC's pressure. When all is said and done, the battle of the boards might determine who wins this game.

Prediction: USC 80, UCLA 75.

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