Brian Rothmuller |

What to watch, TV schedule, radio: USC basketball at Stanford

What to watch Thursday evening when the USC men's basketball team (19-8, 8-6) travel to Maples Pavilion to face Stanford (13-12, 6-8) at 8:00 p.m.

The stakes are growing.

USC has dropped three of their last four games and with every loss, the Trojans see themselves sliding down the seeding projections of the NCAA tournament. A couple of wins will lock up USC's first postseason appearance since 2011, but an epic collapse could see them slide right out of the picture altogether.

The Trojans say they are focusing in on each individual goal and haven't even talked about the importance of being a top four seed in the Pac-12 tournament and earning a first round bye. But after suffering their first home loss of the season on Sunday, the Trojans must go back on the road where they have struggled all season. Can USC find a cure to its road ills?

USC head coach Andy Enfield said he isn't superstitious and won't necessarily be changing his pre-game routine, but hinted the coaching staff might make some adjustment to try something different:

"We'll see. We're not sure yet. It will kind of be a gut feeling about if we need to press or if we need to change the starting lineup, if we need to run different offensive action. We'll see. It's probably a game-time decision."

Here's what else to watch, where you can see the game, a flashback to the last time these teams played and the projected starting lineups.

What to Watch:

Defense Comes First - Ask a USC fan what has been the issue recently and you might get seven different answers. Ask the players or coaches why they have struggled in the last couple of weeks and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is "defense." Not the tempo or shooting or rebounding or anything else. Defense. That's because all of those other things start with defense.

"Going back to playing USC basketball. We've just got to get back to that," USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin said. "We don't feel like our defensive effort has been there completely like it was in the beginning of the season. We've got to get back to playing lockup defense and getting turnovers and that will help us lead to easy points on offense."

Defense Feeds Offensive Tempo - Once the Trojans step up their defense, the offensive tempo should follow. The Trojans have shown that they are a more explosive team when they are running and gunning and that isn't lost on the players. McLaughlin explains:

"We noticed that. The reason that happens starts on the defensive end. Once we get stops, that's when we're able to run, but if the other team is scoring and we have to take the ball out, that gives them a chance to get back on defense and set up their defense. We've just got to get stops on defense first."

Pass the Rock - While USC has been more effective running, it still was able to have success in the half court setting prior to their recent slump. Andy Enfield said the coaches have pointed out that the ball isn't moving as much on the offensive end. Players are trying to do too much by themselves and not trusting in their teammates:

"We focused on that in film session this week. I think the players saw that," Enfield said. "That's been our team concept all season, to share the basketball, to make the extra pass. That's why we have six players averaging double figures. Our players have done a great job of sharing the basketball and creating for their teammates and when their teammate is open making the appropriate or correct pass."

It's probably no coincidence that USC's two best perimeter wings, Katin Reinhardt and Elijah Stewart, have also struggled with their shot recently. They have scored just 49 points and are 8-for-27 on three-point attempts in the last four games. Reinhardt has been dealing with a wrist injury and has seen his conference scoring slump to 9.4 points.

"We've just got to get him and Stew a couple easy ones. Let them see the ball go in and keep them in a rhythm throughout the whole game," McLaughlin said. "With them shooting well you know it opens up a lot a lot more things -- driving lanes for me and Julian [Jacobs], more drive and kicks, dump downs to the bigs."

Stepping Up - Andy Enfield constructed the 2015-16 USC Trojans like a master craftsmen. He has built a team where everybody has a certain role, but the problem has been any time there is a piece missing.  Every time someone has been injured or nicked up, that's when USC has struggled. Whether it has been Julian Jacobs' ankle, Jordan McLaughlin's nose or now Darion Clark's shoulder, when USC hasn't been at full strength, whatever role the injured player fills has suffered greatly.

Clark is a rebounding machine off the bench and the Trojans have struggled to keep teams off the boards, especially when the second team unit is in the game.

""Darion's injury has hurt us from a physical standpoint, defensively and rebounding. No question," Enfield said. "He's our best rebounder per minute and we've been hurt in the interior a few games."

But every team has injuries. To be successful, the Trojans need someone to step up when a teammate go down. That hasn't really been the case this season.

"The other players on the team that are are healthy need to try to pick it up as best as they can while Darion is out and be more physical, go out of their area and rebound some basketballs."

Travis Done Stanford will be without sophomore forward Reid Travis for the remainder of the year, it was announced earlier this week. Travis was arguably the Cardinal's best player, averaging 12.8 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds before a stress reaction in his left leg sidelined him in December. Travis was shut down officially this week and will attempt to apply for a medical redshirt.

Know Thy Enemy - Stanford enters with a 13-12 record, but has been strong at home, as has been the case across the Pac-12 conference. The Cardinal has some big conference home wins, beating Utah in overtime, Cal and first-place Oregon. It presents a different matchup for USC because the Cardinal often use three 6-foot-9 forwards at the same time. Rosco Allen is a versatile swing man, who like Bennie Boatwright for USC, gives opponents matchup issues with his combination of size and ability to put the ball on the floor. He has really taken over as the team's offensive leader recently. He is averaging 19 points per game in his last eight games, including twice matching his career high with 25 points.

Like USC, Stanford has a balanced offensive attack with five guys averaging above nine points per game in conference play. But if they don't knock down shots, it could be a long night for the Cardinal. After being one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country last year, Stanford is shooting just 29.5 percent in conference play this season.


Last Matchup: Stanford won 70-62 on Feb. 8, 2015.

All five Stanford starters scored in double figures as the Cardinal were able to pull away in the final minutes for an eight-point win. After being down by six at halftime, the Cardinal went on a 13-4 run and held off USC's attempts to retake the lead. Katin Reinhardt led USC with 19 points while Jordan McLaughlin had 18 points, eight assists and five steals, but needed 21 shots to get there.

Where to Watch:

Game Time, TV channel: 8:00 p.m. PST, Pac-12 Networks (Rich Cellini, Mike Montgomery)

Radio: ESPN 710, TuneIn Radio (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)

Follow Along: Game Tracker, StatsBroadcast. USC Twitter - @USC_Hoops; Stanford Twitter - @stanfordbball

Projected Starting Lineups:

G - Christian Sanders (6-4 senior)
G - Marcus Allen (6-3 junior)
F - Rosco Allen (6-9 senior)
F - Michael Humphrey (6-9 sophomore)
C - Grant Verhoeven (6-9 senior)

G - Julian Jacobs (6-4 junior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Katin Reinhardt (6-6 junior)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior) Top Stories