USC Basketball Game Preview: Washington Huskies


Washington Huskies (8-3) at USC Trojans (8-5)

Head Coach: Lorenzo Romar (Year 9: 176-93)

Conference: Pac-10


Location: Los Angeles, CA (Galen Center)

Time: 7:30 PM (PDT)

TV: None

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC opens up its Pac-10 slate Wednesday night at home against the preseason favorite Washington Huskies. The Trojans enter tonight’s contest riding a two game winning streak and brimming with confidence now that transfer Jio Fontan is eligible. And why shouldn’t they be? USC owns the Pac-10’s two best out of conference wins and has looked much more potent on offense since the Kansas game.Tuesday, Fontan told Michael Lev of the OC Register, “We see ourselves as winning the Pac-10 Conference. … We feel we’re the best team in the Pac-10.” If the Trojans want an NCAA Tournament bid, they need to back up Fontan’s proclamation over the final 18 games.

Washington travels to the Galen Center riding a two-game winning streak of its own. The Huskies began the season ranked and cruised to three easy wins, but fell to then-No. 9 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Michigan State. Despite the nice 8-3 record, Washington is 0-1 in true road games after falling 63-62 at Texas A&M on December 11. After a surprising run to the Sweet 16 in 2010, the Huskies entered the 2010-2011 campaign as strong favorites to win a mediocre Pac-10, but they haven’t been nearly as dominant as pundits predicted to start the season.

Despite a pedestrian 8-10 record in conference last year, USC managed to sweep the Huskies and even blow them out in Los Angeles. To pull off the feat this year, USC will have to bear down and rely on its signature defense. Against Kansas, the Trojans limited the Jayhawks to their lowest shooting percentage of the season. The Huskies shoot the ball well, ranking 18th in the nation at 48.8%. They also rank 2nd nationally in points per game with 90 and  assists, meaning they move the ball very well.

Much like USC, the Huskies have a good combination of inside and outside play. Venoy Overton and Isiah Thomas are lightning quick guards that can penetrate and score or dish to an open man for a lay up. Overton is an excellent defender and will challenge whoever he is assigned to. The Trojans simply can’t afford to turn the ball over with Thomas and Overton looking. Both guards can get out with unmatched speed on the break and are excellent at finishing. In the paint, Matthew Bryan-Amaning will make his presence felt. The senior forward averages nearly 14 points per game and shoots 56.5% from the floor. Given his high percentage, USC would be wise to deny him the ball inside and make him play on the perimeter.

Even in the face of a quality opponent, USC hasn’t been unperturbed and should continue to do so. At Tennessee and Kansas, the Trojans looked poised and played well. If they stick to their offensive game plan from the past, they should be able to keep pace with Washington. Jio Fontan has shot the ball rather well in his first three games, and his presence helps soften up defenses. In addition, the emergence of Donte Smith has made it easier for the Trojans to score. When players find themselves in double teams, Smith usually is open and he has been lights out from three. Add to that Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson inside, and the Trojans have a much more potent offense than a year ago. They need to slow things down and control the tempo instead of letting Washington dictate a fast pace. If the Trojans can take the air out of the ball and take quality shots, they should be good to go.

USC was able to sweep the Huskies last year, and this team is better than the one that accomplished the feat. If they play with the same intensity and passion of the last three games, they should walk away victorious. Realistically, USC needs 12 wins in conference to get serious consideration from the NCAA Selection Committee. When 12-7 is required, winning home games is an absolute must.