USC Basketball Game Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

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Arizona State Sun Devils (10-17, 2-13) at USC Trojans (16-12, 8-7)

Head Coach: Herb Sendek (Year 5: 86-70)

Conference: Pac-10

Stars: G Ty Abbott, G Trent Lockett

Location: Los Angeles, CA (Galen Center)

Time: 4:30 PM (PDT)

TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC closes out its home schedule and will honor its seniors late Saturday afternoon against Arizona State. The Trojans are playing their best basketball of the season right now and just beat No. 10 Arizona to win three in a row for the first time all season. The three point shooting has cooled off a bit, but it has been replaced by a more inspired effort on defense and an increase in quality shots on offense.

Arizona State makes the short trip from Westwood to USC after falling to the Bruins on Thursday. The Sun Devils have turned in a disappointing year so far, and have lost ten of their last eleven. Herb Sendek’s program hasn’t been able to keep up with the loss of quality players over the past two seasons to avoid a down year. The last time these two teams met, Arizona State held their own at home but ultimately fell to USC by the count of 63-61.

Offensively, USC needs to keep up the aggressiveness. They went to the line 27 times against the Wildcats and charged into the teeth of the defense. Jio Fontan drove to the basket often and either had a good layup or found open men. He didn’t shoot well, but he slashed to the basket which opened up gaping holes in the zone. Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson also played very physically and established dominance in the paint. Both often drew double teams as soon as they caught the ball on Thursday, but they either found an open man or used their height and physicality to score. Their ability to score helped USC tally good point totals and shoot a high percentage. Maurice Jones presence off the bench is key as well. As a freshman, he was leading the Pac-10 in minutes played, and his shooting benefitted from not having tired legs. His ability to handle the ball late in games is also invaluable. Over the past week, USC has improved its spacing on offense. Even though they didn’t shoot well against Arizona, USC got quality shots throughout the night. Defenses have had trouble because the passes have been crisp and the ball movement has been quick.

If USC plays the level of defense it has over the past three games, it should keep Arizona State down. Arizona State’s scoring resides primarily with their guards. Only two players average double figures, and they are guards Ty Abbott and Trent Lockett. Despite playing 30 minutes per game, Lockett is shooting 50.8%. He can’t knock down the three very well (31.8%), but he is money from inside the line. One reason for the disappointing campaign taking place in Tempe is the lack of production from big man Rihard Kuksiks. After averaging double figures the past two seasons, the guard-forward combo was expected to be somewhat of a force for the Sun Devils. Instead, he is only averaging 9.6 points per game and just under three rebounds. Offensively, the Sun Devils don’t bring much to the table, and it will be interesting to see if USC brings its energy against a team without a talented attack after expending a lot of physical and emotional energy to take down Arizona. After all, Arizona State ranks 296th in the country in points per game with 63.5 points per game.

Saturday’s game is a very important contest for USC. They have momentum and are peaking at the right time. After playing ASU, they will close out the Pac-10 slate in Washington against two difficult opponents. The Sun Devils aren’t a good team, but USC hasn’t played well on Saturdays and they must remain focuses. Winning would add to the swag this team is playing with, but losing would put a huge damper on things.