UCLA takes on crosstown rival USC tonight at Pauley Pavilion in a game that is critical to each team's post-season tournament chances. Both the Bruins and Trojans have suffered bad early season losses. UCLA's losses to
UCLA-USC games are typically filled with emotion and played at a frenetic, often out-of-control pace. Most of the players have known each other for years and that familiarity only adds to the existing rivalry between the two schools. Bruin/Trojan games often become somewhat playground-like in the style of play, with players doing a lot of talking and trying to back it up with plays that are sometimes beyond their capability. The team that does the best job of staying focused, and plays within itself, will have a big advantage in this game.
Surprisingly, USC is the overall more athletic team. The Trojans' athleticism, especially their quickness on the perimeter, could cause the Bruins some problems. The Craven twins, Roydell Smiley, Desmon Farmer, Brandon Brooks and Jerry Dupree are all very athletic. Their ability to pressure the ball away from the basket and create turnovers for easy baskets is something UCLA must be prepared to handle. The Bruins have struggled at times this year with tough defensive pressure on the perimeter. Don't be surprised if USC goes to a fullcourt press or halfcourt trap.
While these tactics could cause the Bruins to turn the ball over a few times, it might also play right into UCLA's hands. The Bruins are at their best in a pick-up game style of play, with the open court game leading to wide-open jumpers for guys like Jason Kapono, Ray Young and Dijon Thompson. UCLA's halfcourt offense hasn't really clicked on all cylinders yet this year, but put them in a transition, up-and-down style of game and their natural talent seems to emerge.
The Trojans have a balanced offensive attack, with five players averaging in double figures. Farmer leads USC with 16 points a game, while Errick Craven, Rory O'Neil, Smiley and Nick Curtis averaging 12, 11, 11 and 10, respectively. One weapon the Trojans don't figure to have is point guard Robert Hutchinson, who has the best assist/turnover ratio on the squad.
Neither team appears to have much of an advantage in terms of inside play. UCLA doesn't have a true, consistent, low-post threat and USC's best big man, O'Neil, prefers to shoot face-up jumpers. Nick Curtis is the best rebounder for USC, averaging 8 boards a game, and he's someone the Bruins need to be aware of inside.
Andre Patterson is probably UCLA's most effective inside player, at both ends of the court, and his defensive effort inside will be a key. USC likes to attack the basket with players slashing from the perimeter and Patterson's shot-blocking ability is going to be needed. The Bruins aren't good defenders on the perimeter. With the Trojans' quickness advantage, it will be important for Patterson, and the other frontcourt players, to provide help defense inside.
As stated above, emotion and adrenaline usually play a big role in UCLA/USC games and tonight's game figures to be no different. Too much emotion, though, can be a problem. One area where this is particularly true is with outside shooting. The team that is best able to keep their emotions in check, and make open jump shots, will probably win the game. For the season, USC is shooting 39% on threes, while UCLA is also converting 39% of their three-point attempts.
More stats to ponder:
-- USC leads the conference in field goal % defense, holding opponents to 39% from the field. UCLA is third in the conference at 41%.
-- USC is second in the conference in free throw percentage, shooting 70.7% and UCLA is third at 70.5%.
-- UCLA leads the conference in rebounding margin at +3.0 a game. USC is third at +.3 a game.
-- USC is 5th in turnover margin, at +1.9 per game, while UCLA is last in the conference, with -2.6 a game.
-- UCLA is second in field goal percentage, shooting 48% from the field. USC is 9th in the conference, making only 42% of their attempts from the field.
Predicting a UCLA-USC game, in any sport, is usually very difficult. Weird things happen in rivalry games. Players you wouldn't expect to play well step up (thank you, John Barnes) and the intense emotions can sometimes lead to sloppy play. In this game, we think the Trojans struggle from the perimeter and UCLA gets the win.