USC Basketball Game Preview: Arizona Wildcats


USC Trojans (19-13, 10-8) vs. Arizona Wildcats (26-6, 14-4)

Head Coach: Sean Miller (Year 2: 42-21

Conference: Pac-10


Location: Los Angeles, CA (Staples Center)

Time: 6:10 PM (PDT)

TV: Fox Sports Net

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC rolls into the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament after a thorough beat down of Cal. The Trojans fell behind 11-3 after nine minutes of play, but they rallied to play their most thorough basketball of the season. With star Nikola Vucevic in foul trouble, USC’s guards stepped up and turned in tremendous performances. As Selection Sunday looms, USC continues its quest for a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Arizona, the number one seed in the tournament, just dispatched Oregon State in their first game in the tournament. They knocked down 3-point shots with regularity in their quest to win not only the Pac-10 regular season title but also the Pac-10 tournament. The Wildcats struggled the last time they faced the Los Angeles schools, but they have rebounded since to win three in a row.

In the regular season, the two teams split the series with the home team winning. In Tucson, Arizona shot over 60%, but USC made adjusts the second time around and frustrated the Wildcats.

USC’s offense will be tested by the Wildcats. They are the best in the conference at limiting threes, and that has been USC’s bread and butter for much of the year. Nikola Vucevic struggled against Cal and found himself in foul trouble early. Despite the lack of production, the others around him stepped up. Alex Stepheson posted a double-double and layed the ball in a lot thanks to beautiful passes by the guards. USC also rained threes for most of the game and finish 8-17 from beyond the arc. Maurice Jones gave Cal fits,weaving into the paint and either getting to the rim or dishing it to a big man for an easy 2. Meanwhile, Donte Smith spotted up for several difficult threes and drained them. As a pleasant surprise, Marcus Simmons joined the scoring parade as well. The Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year is known for his defensive prowess, but he has struggled offensively all year. He stepped up and hit some big shots, including a three to end the first half. USC needs its guards to continue being aggressive to create high-percentage opportunities and put points on the board. The sledding won’t be easy, but they must fight through the fatigue if they hope to play in the NCAA tournament.

Defensively, the game plan will center around Pac-10 Player of the Year frontrunner Derrick Williams. The 6’8″ power forward plays well inside, but he is also a threat to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. The sophomore, who spurned USC for Arizona when Tim Floyd resigned, averages 18.9 points per game, shoots 61.5% from the floor, and has hit 24 of 54 threes. Kevin O’Neill has admitted that USC doesn’t really have anyone to put the clamps down on Williams. Shutdown defender Marcus Simmons is two inches shorter and would be giving 21 pounds. Furthermore, Simmons usually defends guards and it would present a unique challenge. In the second contest, USC adjusted by having Stepheson pick up Williams on the perimeter. When Williams used his quickness to get by Stepheson, USC would rotate over and utilize help defense to frustrate the Pac-10 Player of the Year. Nobody else averages double figures, but Arizona ranks 16th in the nation with 78.4 points per game. The last time these two teams met, Arizona struggled offensively as they shot poorly from the floor and couldn’t get the ball inside. It was a very physical contest, and USC needs to limit their fouls because they can’t afford foul trouble.

USC can’t afford to get behind early. Unlike Cal, Arizona shoots well and the Trojans aren’t built for a comeback against such a sharpshooting team. Tonight’s crowd will likely be electric. Home town USC should draw well playing at night, and Arizona travels well. Additionally, Kevin O’Neill stirred the pot by allegedly getting into an altercation with an Arizona booster.