Pac-10 Tournament Time

The Trojans' opening game in the Pac-10 Tournament tips off Thursday evening and just two things stand in their way. It sounds easy enough, until you realize that those two things each stand seven feet tall.

For a team lacking in interior muscle like the Trojans are, running into a team like Stanford in the opening round, and more specifically, their twin seven-footers Brook and Robin Lopez, will be a tall task.

The teams split their two meetings this season, with both teams winning on their home court.

The first meeting was a 65-50 Stanford blowout. In that game, the Trojans shot an abysmal 28% from the floor, were out rebounded 43-24 and had 19 shots blocked. Brook Lopez made life especially tough for the Trojans, putting together a nice little game with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 12 blocked shots. The 50 points were the Trojans' lowest output of the season.

The good news for Trojan fans is that when the men of troy got a second shot at the Cardinal, they fared much better.

In the second meeting, held at the Galen Center, the Trojans came away with a 69-65 victory, propelled by Nick Young's 22 points as well as shooting 48% from the field as a team.

It probably helped that the Trojans stopped driving at Stanford's big men and throwing shots directly into their palms.

On Thursday, it will help if USC remembers both games. Not so much for what went wrong in the first game, but for what went right in the second.

During that victory, the Trojans didn't simply stop taking the ball inside. But they were able to hide where the shot was coming from. When a guard penetrated, one of the Lopez twins went up to block the lay-up and watched as the ball was passed by him to an open man. Gabe Pruitt did this extremely well, picking up eight assists along the way.

While the Cardinal aren't all about the Lopez twins, it helps if you have a way to neutralize them. USC's Taj Gibson didn't have a fantastic offensive game either time out against Stanford, he was much more selective in the win, hoisting up just six shots, than in the loss, where he threw it up 13 times and made just five.

Gibson is the Trojans' best interior offensive weapon. In fact, he's their only interior offensive weapon. But the Trojans have shown that they can beat the Cardinal with just eight points from Gibson. He's just not physically mature enough to dominate a game against someone like Brook Lopez.

With that said, however, Gibson will still be a vital part of the Trojan offensive attack. Because without the threat of a turnaround jumper or a quick move to the basket from Gibson, Lopez won't be forced to play him honestly.

Of course, other players will suit up for the Cardinal.

Lawrence Hill is Stanford's biggest offensive threat. The big forward is averaging just over 16 points per game this season and has already gone for 18 and 21 against the Trojans this season.

Mitch Johnson runs the point for Stanford and while he'll never be confused for a scoring machine, he did ring up a couple double-digit scoring games this season. But if he leads the team in shots taken Thursday night, the Trojans should be in good shape.

Robin Lopez joins brother Brook in the starting front court for the Cardinal. Robin isn't the offensive talent that his brother is, but he's another huge body down low for Stanford. On the season, Robin is averaging 7.8 points per game to Brook's 12.7. Defensively, however, Robin is averaging 2.4 blocks per game.

Fred Washington should complete Stanford's four-big-man lineup. The forward is fourth on the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 8.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Anthony Goods is another guard for the Cardinal, and one of their more talented players. He's missed their last six games (including the contest against USC) with an ankle sprain and could miss the tournament as well. If he plays, the Trojans could be looking to spend a good deal of time testing out that ankle.

Kenny Brown could see some time against the Trojans after lighting up Arizona for 22, including four three-pointers, on 9-of-15 shooting. The guard is a streaky shooter and isn't someone they want leading them in scoring again, but he did provide a spark to send that game against the Wildcats into overtime.

Stanford is obviously a much bigger team than the Trojans. But the flip side of that is that the Trojans should be able to run Stanford up and down the court. It will benefit USC greatly if they can shove as many up-tempo runs into this game as possible. If they allow Stanford's back line to set up and play half-court defense every possession, it will be much more difficult for the Trojans to score.

USC is an extremely active team on defense. They come up with a lot of steals and force quite a few turnovers. When facing a team without a great ball handler, that should come into play.

Brook Lopez and Lawrence Hill will get their points. It's too difficult to shut them both down completely. The Trojans must keep them from completely taking over the game. Stanford will be a hungry team, knowing that they likely need this first-round win to get into the NCAA Tournament. But USC should come out motivated as well. Though they are already likely in the tournament, their seeding could take a serious hit with a first-round exit.

Overall, the Trojans have a great shot to move on in the Pac-10 Tournament. They've shown as recently as two weeks ago that they can beat the Cardinal and with any luck, there will be a raucous home crowd on hand to see them into the second round.


USCFootball.com Top Stories