USC Basketball Game Preview: UCLA Bruins


USC Trojans (12-10, 4-5) at UCLA Bruins (14-7, 6-3)

Head Coach: Ben Howland (Year 8: 180-79)

Conference: Pac-10


Location: Los Angeles, CA (Pauley Pavilion)

Time: 8:00 PM (PDT)

TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC defeated UCLA 63-52 on January 9 at the Galen Center. Since that game, the two teams have taken different paths since the rivalry game three weeks ago. The Trojans have dropped four of six following the beaitng of UCLA. USC recorded a rare road victory at Arizona State last Saturday, but they were soundly defeated by the Arizona Wildcats as they fell to 4-5 in conference. The Trojans struggled offensively, and their defense let them down, allowing the Wildcats to shoot just over 61% from the floor. After beating UCLA, USC was 2-1 and hoping to contend for the Pac-10 title. Those expectations have faded and now they are just hoping to win the Pac-10 tournament for an NCAA bid.

UCLA, on the other hand, has won five of their last six and appear to be hitting their stride. The loss to USC put them at 1-2 in conference play, but their rebound has put them just one game back of first place and on the right side of the bubble according to several bracketologists. Since losing to their rival, the Bruins took care of the inferior Oregon and Bay Area schools as well as Arizona State. Their lone loss over the past three weeks came at the hands of Arizona, who stands tied for first and is putting on an impressive display of offense. The Bruins seemed to have used the loss to USC as a wake up call and rallying cry, and it has worked.

UCLA loves the zone defense, and that has given USC fits for the past two years. However, the Trojans have seemingly had an answer for Ben Howland’s schemes. In the first meeting, USC emphasized throwing the ball into the low block to Nikola Vucevic. The junior scored 20 points and shot 8-12 from inside the arc. If the Trojans can continue to work it to him, UCLA could be in serious trouble. Vucevic also gave freshman center Josh Smith fits. The 300-pounder, who averages 10 points per game, fouled out in just 22 minutes of play because Vucevic continually attacked him. It also helped that the guards shot the ball well. Fontan and Mo Jones added 19 as they were afforded open shots when the zone collapsed on the interior. Another key factor was that USC recorded four more offensive rebounds than UCLA and used those second chances to increase their lead.

Defensively, USC must be as physical inside as they were in the first meeting. UCLA struggled to get the ball inside, and when they did, they had trouble maneuvering to the hoop. As a result, the Bruins were forced to take low-percentage looks and shot 19-48. The Bruins were forced to pass the ball around the perimeter and never found a rhythm on offense. Marcus Simmons and the rest of the guards frustrated UCLA’s backcourt immensely. Lazeric Jones has played well as of late, but USC’s defense haunted him. The guard shot 0-7 in a nightmare performance; Malcolm Lee shot 1-5. Furthermore, the Trojans pressured the ball intently and forced 16 turnovers, 7 of which were credited to forward Tyler Honeycutt. USC is known for their defense, but it has broken down on the road all too often. Notably, Oregon State and Arizona shot very high percentages and the Trojans weren’t able to keep pace. Complacency shouldn’t be an issue against a rival in a hostile environment, but it must be said that the defensive intensity has to be present.

Heading into the contest, UCLA has all the momentum and home court advantage. However, Kevin O’Neill is 3-0 in his tenure against the cross-town rival and USC embarrassed the Bruins on their home floor a year ago. In fact, USC has beaten UCLA four times in a row, dating back to the 2009 Pac-10 Championship game.