Photo credit: Getty Images – Jonathan Daniel
Game info: 7:30 p.m. tonight at Galen Center
Radio: KJR-950 AM
Record: 8-5. RPI rank: 48.
Previous game: Beat Lehigh 76-49.
Stats/schedule: Click here.
Prediction: Picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 in a media poll.
Coach: Kevin O’Neill is 24-19 in his second season with the Trojans. He is 212-213 overall in 14 years as a college coach. He also coached the NBA’s Toronto Raptors for two years (2003-04).
Series: USC leads 67-65 in a series that began in 1925. The Trojans swept last season’s games. UW coach Lorenzo Romar is 10-6 against USC while O’Neill is 3-1 against the Huskies, which includes his one-year stint at Arizona.
Last meeting: USC won 67-64 on Feb. 18 at Edmundson Pavilion. The Huskies trailed 32-24 at halftime before pulling to 61-60 when Venoy Overton made a driving layup with 1:25 remaining. Former Trojan Mike Gerritty sealed the victory when he answered with layup and a short jumper with 15 seconds left.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
— In just three games, Fordham transfer Jio Fontan has made a big impact with the Trojans. The 6-foot guard has become the team’s floor leader and leading scorer who averages 16.3 points per game. Fontan was named the Pac-10 Player of the Week on Monday. Fontan made the Atlantic-10 All-Rookie team as a freshman in 2009 (15.3 ppg, 4.7 apg) and averaged 15.0 points per game in five games last season at Fordham.
— Junior forward Nikola Vucevic (above, middle) is arguably USC’s top NBA prospect. He’s a terrific help defender in the low post. The Trojans also use him on pick-n-rolls, which also him to get open for a mid-range jumper that’s fairly consistent. Vucevic is prone to picking up cheap fouls. He’s fouled out twice this season.
— Senior forward Alex Stepheson fractured his left hand Nov. 13. He wears a cast between games and a brace during games. The injury had limited his effectiveness and a few weeks ago he was essentially playing with one hand. Lately, he’s been using the left hand on shots and doesn’t seem to be favoring it as much. This is his second season at USC since transferring from North Carolina. Physically he’s imposing, but statistically he hasn’t lived up to the hype.
— Senior guard Marcus Simmons is USC’s Justin Holiday. He’s frequently asked to defend the other team’s top scorer. He held Texas’ Jordan Hamilton, who had been averaging 21.7 points and 7.0 rebounds, to 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting and four rebounds. Simmons also paired against Tennessee’s top scorer Scotty Hopson and held him to eight points.
— Donte Smith brings instant offense off the bench. He’s averaging 10 points, but is capable of scoring 20 or more. He had a season-high 22 against Northern Arizona and 20 against No. 3 Kansas. Smith leads USC with 30 three-pointers and a 77.8 free throw shooting percentage.
— O’Neill uses an 8-man rotation. His starters play a lot of minutes. Fontan might not leave the court. The same goes for Stepheson if he stays out of foul trouble. Freshman guard Bryce Jones and freshman forward Garrett Jackson are prone to mistakes, which is probably why their at the bottom of the rotation.
— USC went 3-1 in a four-game stretch against three ranked teams (Texas, Kansas & Tennessee). The Trojans also lost at home by 20 points to Rider (9-5).
— USC has allowed an average of 58.2 points per game and held opponents to a .353 shooting percentage (94-for-266) in the last five games.
— USC has won the battle of the boards in 9 of 13 games this season and has outrebounded the opposition 463-419.
F – Nikola Vucevic, 6-10, 260, Jr., 15.2 ppg., 9.6 rpg.
F – Alex Stepheson, 6-10, 250, Sr., 9.8, 8.6
G – Marcus Simmons, 6-6, 220, Sr., 5.5, 3.2
G – Jio Fontan, 6-0, 175, Jr., 16.3, 3.6 apg.
G – Maurice Jones, 5-7, 155, Fr., 11.3, 4.2 apg
— The front lines of both teams have drawn a lot of attention, which makes a lot of sense because the battle beneath the glass should be explosive between Aziz N’Diaye and Stepheson and Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Vucevic.
Still this game will be decided by the guards, specifically Isaiah Thomas and Fontan. They’re the real stars. In their last matchup, Thomas had five points on 2-for-5 shooting. In the game at Los Angeles last season, he finished with 14 points, but missed 7 of 10 shots. More importantly, the Huskies couldn’t contain Gerritty who dribbled around them and threw inside for dunks and layups.
The Trojans are the type of team that has given Thomas fits. They’re long and they defend the basket, which takes away his dribble drives and forces him to shoot from the outside. His task becomes increasingly difficult on the road when officials tend to swallow their whistles and not call many fouls on the home team. Thomas should draw Maurice Jones defensively, which is a favorable matchup. There’s not many times when he’s taller than his opposition. His offensive savvy should also create some open looks against the USC freshman.
And finally, don’t be surprised if Justin Holiday and/or Abdul Gaddy have a breakout performance. They’ve played well at times this season, but both have been relatively quiet in the big games.
December 29, 2010 at 7:28 AM
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