USC Preview

The team just had a bounce-back game, beating a ranked opponent, and looks poised to make a late-season run. The scenario sounds familiar to Bruin fans, but this time it applies to UCLA's opponent tonight, crosstown rival, USC...

Some teams have that knack for bouncing back. Just when they looked like they were spiraling, they get help from an unexpected source, they get that big, dominant win against a ranked opponent and it turns around their season.

 

This year, that scenario doesn't describe UCLA, but could describe USC.

 

The Trojans were on a three game losing streak over the last couple of weeks, which turned their record into a losing one.  But Sunday they got that UCLA-like win, this one against 22nd ranked Oregon, and it could be something for this young Trojan team to build on for the remainder of the season.

 

But it's not as if that was USC's only big win of the year. A few weeks earlier, they had also beaten Arizona State. They beat UCLA, which sent UCLA on its eight-game losing streak, but it's hard to characterize USC's win over this struggling UCLA team as a big one.  If USC beats UCLA tonight at the Sports Arena, it is a relatively big win, since it will be the first time in 11 years USC has swept UCLA in a season, and the first time that USC coach Henry Bibby will have accomplished it.  It would also be the first time since 1941 that USC has swept UCLA in football and basketball.

 

It's amazing. Every time you think the potential ignominious records UCLA could set this season have been exhausted, there's a new one right around the corner.

 

USC did the UCLA-like turn-around-game thing when they found a contributor in football player/walk-on Greg Guenther against Oregon Sunday.  The 6-8 power forward who is a tight end on the football team played 30 minutes, anchored USC's interior game, and scored 16 points.  He didn't just do it on garbage and put backs, but some nice jumpers from the top of the key. 

 

With Guenther able to bring a big body to the paint, it also helped 6-11 sophomore center Rory O'Neil to find his game. He had 12 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks and probably his best all-around game of the season. O'Neil, who is a very good shooting big man but a somewhat soft post, looked quite a bit calmer and confident against Oregon. That tends to happen when you have a body guard playing next to you like Guenther, all 260 pounds of him combined with a football mentality.

 

With USC's interior anchored and contributing huge against Oregon, it also tended to settle down USC's sometimes erratic perimeter players.  Sophomore guard Errick Craven was in fine Craven form, doing his Energizer bunny impression he does so well. He had 18 points, mostly going to the basket, and an astounding 8 steals.  He also didn't hit a three-point shot the entire game, which is the first time that's happened in over two months, but it didn't really affect the outcome of the game.

 

Small forward Desmon Farmer leads the team in scoring, averaging over 16 points a game, and he was probably the most consistent and steady through USC's three-game losing streak.  He's a very good three-point shooter, setting up anywhere beyond the arc. With a newfound inside-outside formula for USC, watch for Farmer to be looking for open looks from kickouts, especially with that penetrating demon, Craven, finding seams in opposing defenses.

 

Perhaps USC's Achilles Heel is the point guard position, where they've been trying to find someone to nail it down all season. Derrick Craven has mostly been starting at the point recently, and he's struggled.  Derrick is still trying to adopt a point guard's mentality, more naturally a shooting guard like his twin brother, and his inconsistent play, and the mediocre play from the position, has really hurt USC this season.   USC is a bit of a wild team to begin with, with a lot of raw athletes who are limited a bit in their basketball IQs, and without leadership from the point guard position, it's made the Trojans a pretty erratic team.  Errick Craven started against Oregon, had seven turnovers in 12 minutes of play, and Bibby then opted for backup point Robert Hutchinson.  Hutchinson is the most solid point on the team, but he's been slowed this season by injury.  He played soundly against Oregon, and that combined with USC's strength inside, was the key to the new, successful formula.  JC transfer point guard Brandon Brooks is out for what looks like the remainder of the season with an injury.

 

Another solid, calming influence is 6-8 sophomore power forward Nick Curtis. He got limited minutes against USC due to an injury, which actually gave Guenther his chance. Curtis, though, is having a solid year, averaging 9 points and 7 rebounds a game, and has easily been USC's best rebounder. 

 

USC limited their bench against Oregon, and it seemed to tighten up their play.  Besides the six players mentioned above, the only other player that saw time against the Ducks was Roydell Smiley, a reserve wing, who has generally been a good contributor, providing some toughness and muscle off the bench, even though he can tend toward the erratic side,


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