Game info: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Edmundson Pavilion
TV/Radio: FSN/KJR-950 AM
Record: 17-13, 9-8. RPI rank: 81.
Previous game: Lost 85-77 at Washington State.
Stats/schedule: Click here.
Prediction: Picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 in a media poll.
Coach: Kevin O’Neill is 33-27 in his second season with the Trojans. He is 221-220 overall in 14 years as a college coach. He also coached the NBA’s Toronto Raptors for two years (2003-04).
Series: USC leads 67-66 in a series that began in 1925. The Trojans swept last season’s games. UW coach Lorenzo Romar is 11-6 against USC while O’Neill is 3-2 against the Huskies, which includes his one-year stint at Arizona.
Last meeting: Terrence Ross came off the bench and scored 18-points to lead Washington to a 73-67 overtime win at Galen Center on Dec. 29. The Huskies trailed 16-4 after eight minutes and looked as if they were going to be routed. Backed by a large contingent of UW fans who traveled to Southern California to watch the football team play in the Holiday Bowl, the Huskies withstood the early onslaught. Washington led 28-26 at halftime. The Huskies had a four-point lead (54-50) with 1:50 remaining in regulation. UW managed just one point and USC had five to force overtime. In the extra period, Venoy Overton scored eight of his 11 points as the Huskies outscored the Trojans 18-12. Matthew Bryan-Amaning finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Justin Holiday had 12 points and Isaiah Thomas 10.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
— Junior forward Nikola Vucevic scored a season-high 28 points in the first meeting against Washington. He was unstoppable. The Huskies could only foul him and he made 14 of 14 free throws. He also grabbed 14 rebounds. Vucevic has s posted six straight double-doubles (averaging 21.3 points/11.5 rebounds), giving him a Pac-10 leading 18 double-doubles. He has 28 for his career. Vucevic is one of the most skilled players in the Pac-10. He can dribble, pass, shoot and rebound. His on-ball defense is suspect, but Vucevic is a terrific help defender who gets most of his blocks when he’s flying in from the weak side.
— Before the season, O’Neill called Fordham transfer Jio Fontan the best player on the team. That was an overstatement. Vucevic is clearly USC’s most talented player, but Fontan is important to the Trojans’ success. He’s able to run the offense, settle things down and play solid if unspectacular defense. Fontan moved to point guard and he has at least four assists in six of the last seven games.
— Lately O’Neill has been pushing senior guard Marcus Simmons (above) for Defensive Player of the Year. O’Neill told the Los Angeles Times: “He’s the defensive player of the year, not just in the league, but in the country.” Simmons is a big-bodied active defender. He’s rangy and quick. But he’s also foul prone. In 13 games, he’s collected at least four fouls. On Thursday he fouled out at WSU trying to defend Klay Thompson. Simmons can also be a liability offensively.
— Senior forward Alex Stepheson is one of the biggest – literally – mysteries in the conference. At 6-10 and 250 pounds, he looks like a NBA player. There’s not an ounce of fat on him. He’s ripped and imposing. And yet in two seasons with USC, he has yet to live up to the hype since transferring from North Carolina. He’s capable of finishing with a double double – he has 10 this season – but Stepheson isn’t the type to take over a game.
— Freshman guard Maurice Jones began the season as the starting guard, but has recently moved to the bench and plays more at shooting guard. Now he’s asked to score a little more and he tallied 16 points Thursday at Washington State. His career best is 29. Even though he’s a reserve, Jones averages a team-high 35.1 minutes per game.
— USC doesn’t shoot a lot of three-pointers, but when they do Donte Smith is usually hoisting up the shot. He’s attempted 185 treys, 79 more than the closest guy on the team.
— O’Neill uses a 7-man rotation. His starters play a lot of minutes. Stepheson and Fontan might not leave the court. They played 43 and 42 minutes respectively in the last game against the Huskies.
— Before Thursday’s loss at WSU, the Trojan defense was allowing the opposition to shoot just 35.9 percent from the field. The Cougars shot 54.7 percent.
F – Nikola Vucevic, 6-10, 260, Jr., 17.6 ppg., 10.3 rpg.
F – Alex Stepheson, 6-10, 250, Sr., 9.8, 8.8
G – Marcus Simmons, 6-6, 220, Sr., 4.6, 2.9
G – Jio Fontan, 6-0, 175, Jr., 10.1, 3.9 apg.
G – Donte Smith, 5-11, 180, Sr., 10.0, 1.6
— If the Huskies could have slowed down Vucevic just a little bit in the first game, they wouldn’t have needed overtime for the win. Limiting him is the top priority. And that job belongs primarily to Bryan-Amaning. He’ll get help from Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant, but Bryan-Amaning is the senior playing his final game at home. His defense will be just as important if not more so than his offense. The Huskies used a 2-3 zone defense for long periods of the game to negate USC’s big front line and it was effective at times. Look for UW to rely on the zone again. Isaiah Thomas will draw Simmons who has given the Husky guard fits in the past. Simmons is impossible to shoot over and when Thomas gets around him on dribble drives he’s funneled into Vucevic or Stepheson.