Hoops Preview - USC

Now that the Washington Huskies have knocked off the UCLA Bruins, the next task will be to see off the USC Trojans on Saturday. The game, which is also UW's Senior Night, will start at 7:30 p.m. PST and be aired live on Fox Sports Northwest.

For the first time in a few seasons, Washington will have three seniors to honor on Senior Night. The seniors are Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday, and Venoy Overton. Since coming to Montlake, their combined record has been 88-45, which is good enough for second-best of any UW senior class.

The last time Washington faced USC on Senior Night was in the 1996-97 season, a game that UW won 94-84. Since then Washington has only lost one game on that special occasion.

As for this season, USC is in tie for fourth in the Pac-10 with a 9-8 conference and a 17-13 overall record.

In the first meeting between the two schools, UW drove past USC in overtime with a 73-67 win in Los Angeles. Bryan-Amaning and Terrence Ross scored 18 apiece to lead the Huskies. It also happened to be the Pac-10 opener for both.

For USC, Nikola Vucevic led the way with 28 points and 14 rebounds. Guard Jio Fontan added 14 points as well.

Providing the majority of the fire power for the Trojans has been Vucevic, a player UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said Friday is one of the more under-appreciated players in the country. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound junior forward is not only averaging 17.6 points on 51 percent shooting, but also 10.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. During their most recent home sweep of the Arizona schools, Vucevic averaged 22.5 points and 11 rebounds. The Montenegro native has posted 20 double-doubles this season, including seven straight, leading the conference.

With UCLA also having a strong front court, Romar noted the main difference between the two LA schools in that regard is that Vucevic will extend and step away from the basket to shoot jumpers all the way out to the three-point line. This makes him a doubly-difficult matchup for Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Aziz N'Diaye, and Darnell Gant, who will need to find a way to limit his productivity.

Working down low with Vucevic will be Alex Stepheson. The North Carolina Tar Heel transfer is averaging 9.9 points on 55 percent shooting, 8.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound redshirt senior from Los Angeles has 10 double-doubles this season.

Running the point will be Fontan, a transfer from Fordham. Although expectations were high for the 6-foot junior after his hot start and past success, his overall season numbers have been lackluster - averaging just 10 points on 41 percent shooting and four assists a game. Besides his 21-point outburst against Arizona, he hasn't scored in double digits since Jan. 29.

Providing the defensive presence from the other spot in the back court will be freshman Maurice Jones. The diminutive 5-foot-7, 155-pound guard is averaging 2.2 steals per contest, which ranks No. 27 nationally, and third in the conference. He also averages 10.1 points per game on 36 percent shooting and 3.4 assists. He also leads the conference in minutes played per game (35).

Beyond those four, USC will use seniors Donte Smith and Marcus Simmons, as well as freshman Garrett Jackson.

The Kevin O'Neill-led team may have two of the best rebounders in the league, but as a team, USC only averages 33.9 rebounds a game, which is No. 228 nationally, and eighth in the conference.

After this contest, both teams will begin to prepare for the Pac-10 Tournament, which will begin next Thursday at the Staples Center in LA. With a win and a UCLA loss to Washington State, the Huskies would clinch the No. 2 seed, guaranteeing themselves a game versus the 7-10 winner on Thursday. They need a win over USC and a UCLA loss to WSU to pull that out. Anything else (UCLA win OR Husky loss) and they are a guaranteed 3-seed and a Thursday date with the 6-seed, whoever that ends up being after Saturday's play.


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