USC Basketball Game Preview: Arizona Wildcats


USC Trojans (12-9, 4-4) at Arizona Wildcats (17-4, 6-2)

Head Coach: Sean Miller (Year 2: 33-19)

Conference: Pac-10

Stars: F Derrick Williams, F Solomon Hill

Location: Tucson, Arizona (McKale Center)

Time: 4:30 PM (PDT)

TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC makes the short bus ride to Tucson after surviving a scare Thursday night in Tempe. The Trojans fell behind early to the conference’s last place team, but came storming back to get back to .500 in Pac-10 play. The victory was a double rarity; USC won on the road in conference for just the third time in twelve tries under head coach Kevin O’Neill. They also defeated an Arizona State team that plays zone, a defense that has plagued the Trojans for the past two years. While it is fantastic that they were able to pull out the victory, there isn’t much time to relish in the win. Arizona looms tonight, and USC hasn’t swept the Arizona schools in Arizona since 1985.

Arizona stands second in the Pac-10 and is coming off of a victory over UCLA. The Wildcats began the season with lofty preseason expectations and have lived up to them. Out of conference, their two losses are to top-10 teams BYU and Kansas, and they have taken care of business in conference for the most part. Although they are a young team, the Wildcats are in a position to contend with Washington for the conference crown. In just his second season, head coach Sean Miller has developed a solid team.

After a sluggish start against Arizona State, USC executed very well on offense. They stuck to their strengths, and it ended up paying off. Freshman guard Maurice Jones became aggressive with his penetration and made the zone collapse, creating holes. Furthermore, USC emphasized getting the ball down low to Nikola Vucevic. The junior netter 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting. Facing the Wildcats, USC will not only have to continue to be aggressive from the guard position and get the ball inside, but also shoot well if they hope to keep pace with the potent opponent. One aspect to keep an eye on: O’Neill used just seven players in the game against Arizona State. Since it went down to the wire and the rotation was short, USC could be fatigued in this game, particularly at the end.

As pointed out by Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News, three of Arizona’s starters either committed or signed with USC before leaving after the departure of Tim Floyd. These players average 36 points per game. The big star of that group is leading scorer and Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate Derrick Williams. Averaging 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, Williams has the ability to take a game over and put the team on his back. For the year, he is shooting 62.7% from the floor and is 21 of 31 from beyond the arc. His lowest point total of the season is currently 12, which came at Oregon. Last year against USC, he averaged 16.5 points per game and will present a challenge defensively for USC. Shutdown defender Marcus Simmons is two inches shorter and would be giving 21 pounds. Nobody else averages double figures, but Arizona rankes 35th in the nation with 77 points per game. If USC hopes to win this game, they must play the type of defense they did against Stanford and transition that staunch defense into a potent offense.

As mentioned before, USC’s at-large hopes would appear non-existent after a bevy of bad losses. The best part about the NCAA tournament is that there are other avenues for securing a bid. If USC can beat Arizona, it will be one step in the right direction as they look to hit their stride for the Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center.