#12 WASHINGTON (12-1, 2-0) at USC (7-6, 0-2):
LA Sports Arena, Thursday, January 6, 7:30 PM (no local TV)
It's been a soap-opera season so far for the Southern California hoopsters, yet they have remained competitive during the turmoil of Rodrick Stewart leaving, Henry Bibby being axed, and then having Rick Majerus saying "Thanks" followed by "No Thanks" to the coaching position in a 72-hour period. The Trojans have gone 5-4 under interim coach Jim Saia, who is still looking for his first conference win after getting swept in the Willamette Valley last weekend.
"I still think we have a good team," Saia said on Tuesday. "We do a lot of nice things offensively. But they get frustrated and down, and then there's a mental shutdown. That's something we have to eliminate.
"I am positive with them, but everyone has to own up to what they do - including me."
Most locals are aware of the on-going Stewart twins' saga on the South L.A. campus. "I would have went (to Washington) if two scholarships had been open," maintains USC leading scorer Lodrick Stewart. The other scholarship, in their minds, would have gone to twin brother Rodrick, who left the USC program on November 24 after a loud falling out with former coach Henry Bibby. Rodrick now currently at Kansas, and Bibby was fired on December 6 - just four games into the season but amid a decade of turmoil and player dissention.
Six seniors dot the Trojan roster, yet their talent comes from the youngsters in Coach Saia's new three-guard lineup – a lineup Saia migrated to immediately upon his appointment. Besides sophomore Lodrick (15.2 points per game), there's 6-4 point guard Gabe Pruitt (11 ppg) and 6-6 Nick Young (9 ppg) – both freshmen, both from the Los Angeles area. The inside is manned by 6-8 Jeff "Tank" McMillan and 6-11 senior Rory O'Neill (10.8 ppg). Banger Gregg Guenther and former starter Derrick Craven gives the Trojans lots of bench experience. Twin brother Errick Craven, a perennial visitor to former coach Bibby's doghouse, will miss the contest with an ankle sprain.
Still, it figures to be an up-and-down affair. Last season the two teams split, each victorious on the road – USC winning 88-80 in Seattle and Washington prevailing 93-82 in Los Angeles. Overall, the Trojans hold a 62-58 series lead all-time, and USC is 6-0 this season when hitting at least nine three-pointers.
And there could be a campus hangover after the football team's National Championship walloping of Oklahoma. You might even be able to hear all the court and bench chatter in the cavernous Sports Arena on Thursday - the Trojans only average 2600 fans per home contest. And it won't be until 2006 that Southern California will finally have their own on-campus digs – the 10,250-seat Galen Center.
PROBABLE USC STARTERS POS No. Name HT CL PPG RPG ---------------------------------------------- F 5 Jeff McMillan 6-8 SR 9.4 6.0 C 21 Rory O'Neill 6-11 SR 10.8 5.1 G 1 Nick Young 6-6 FR 8.6 4.3 G 3 Lodrick Stewart 6-4 SO 15.2 2.8 G 34 Gabe Pruitt 6-4 FR 10.9 2.8
WASHINGTON at UCLA (7-3, 1-1):
Pauley Pavilion Saturday, January 8, 7:30 PM (no local TV):
Another freshman guard tandem awaits Washington when the Huskies meet the Bruins in Westwood on Saturday night - both Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo average more than 30 minutes per game. Their early push was necessitated by the loss of senior Cedric Bozeman to a torn knee. And their playing time could increase further, as fellow senior Janou Rubin is also out after undergoing knee surgery on Thursday.
Farmar, from Van Nuys, is UCLA's leading assist man and was the PAC-10's player-of-the-week December 13 when he scored nine of the Bruins' last 11 points in a comeback win over Pepperdine.
Olympia (Wash.) Capital center Michael Fey tallied a career-high 23 points in Corvallis in UCLA's 85-80 loss to the Beavers, and Dijon Thompson had a 31-point weekend during the Bruins' split. Brian Morrison hit five-of-six three-pointers for all of his 15 points to lead UCLA's upset over Oregon – the Bruins first win in Eugene in four seasons. Thompson averages 17.1 points and 8.3 boards, both UCLA highs. The 6-7 senior isn't afraid to cast it from long range, either – he hits 42-percent from behind the arc. Fairfax freshman Josh Shipp averages 7.4 points and leads the Bruins in steals with 11.
6-11 junior Ryan Hollins has seen his minutes cut lately, but his size could give Washington fits off the bench. Hollins hits 59 percent from the floor. Coach Ben Howland also hinted that Matt McKinney and Josiah Johnson could also see increased minutes in Rubin's absence.
Last season, UCLA swept the regular season series, winning 80-75 at home and 86-84 in overtime at Seattle. Washington got their revenge in the PAC-10 tournament, though – a 91-83 quarterfinal win at the Staples Center, overcoming a 47-40 halftime deficit behind Will Conroy's 18 points.
The Huskies have many demons to exorcise from Pauley Pavilion – it's been 18 seasons since they last won there, and they sport a 2-39 overall record in the former PAC-10 Mecca. Also, Lorenzo Romar has never won in the building as an opposing coach after assisting Jim Harrick there for four seasons.
PROBABLE UCLA STARTERS POS No. Name HT CL PPG RPG ---------------------------------------------- F 1 Dijon Thompson 6-7 SR 17.1 8.3 F 12 Josh Shipp 6-5 FR 7.4 4.0 C 45 Michael Fey 7-0 JR 10.4 4.5 G 4 Arron Afflalo 6-5 FR 11.5 3.3 G 11 Jordan Farmar 6-2 FR 12.6 2.4