January 24, 2013 by Marshall Kelner
By Marshall Kelner
A HUGE three-game road stretch starts tonight for USC, as the Trojans travel to Tempe to take on ASU. Then, it’s at Arizona on Saturday and at hated UCLA next Wednesday. These three games will determine where the Trojans stand in the Pac-12 conference heading into the second half. Win them all, and USC would be 6-3 and looked at as one of the elite teams in the league. Lose them all, and it’s most likely curtains on the season. The bottom line is that a ton is at stake in this stretch, and USC probably has to find a way to win two of these three to feel good about themselves going forward. How can they do it? Here are the five biggest keys:
1. Take care of the basketball.
Turnovers have been a problem all season for SC, especially when facing zone defenses. Point guard Jio Fontan gave it away 10 times by himself in the win against Oregon State, as he and the Trojans couldn’t find a way to break the 1-3-1. While ASU doesn’t zone as much as they have in the past under head coach Herb Sendek, expect a heavy dose of it tonight after what the Sun Devils saw on tape from USC. They key will be patience, penetrating the seams, getting the ball into the middle, and shooting well from the corner. Fontan must lead the way, not try to over-dribble, and not make ill advised lazy passes. Arizona and UCLA play more man-to-man, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sean Miller or Ben Howland throws in some possessions of zone against USC as well. You can’t turn the ball over on the road, especially against quality opponents.
2. J.T. Terrell must show up.
Terrell is clearly the most talented offensive player on the team. This key is more important against Zona and UCLA because they have so much firepower. Terrell scored 22 against Oregon in his first game under interim head coach Bob Cantu, but followed it up with just 11 against OSU. The Trojans need consistency from him in this stretch. Terrell seems to be much better when he gets going early. USC must look for him right away, and hopefully the long ball is falling. If it’s not, however, Terrell still needs to find a way to get his points by driving to the basket and getting to the foul line.
3. Control the glass.
This is what concerns me the most, especially against these three teams in particular. They all have huge front lines. USC does as well, but the Trojans aren’t as tough. In the loss to Oregon, USC was outrebounded 38-25. That just can’t happen in these games if they want any chance to win. ASU has the 7-2 creature Jordan Bachynski, Arizona features the fabulous freshman tandem of Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, and the Bruins trot out the Wear twins (Travis and David). These dudes are the real deal and huge human beings. It will be pivotal for Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby (and James Blasczyk when he plays) to box out and play much more physical then than they have been lately. You can’t give up second chance opportunities against these teams.
4. Make free throws.
One could argue that poor shooting from the charity stripe has already cost USC both the Cal and Oregon games. I can’t argue with that take. The Trojans shot 20-32 against the Ducks (62.5%) and 8-18 (44.4%) against the Golden Bears. Pathetic! USC has been in every conference game so far, and little things like this can make or break you. Good teams cash in at the line.
5. Play with a sense of urgency for 40 minutes.
There always seems to be that one stretch when USC lets up just a little bit and the opponent makes a huge run. Don’t get me wrong, these teams will all make their runs, especially on their home courts. The key is minimizing those runs and the way you do that is to play hard for 40 minutes. This is a lot easier said than done, but it must be done if USC want to win these games. Considering the make up of their team, they should have a real sense of urgency. Seniors Jio Fontan and Eric Wise are on their last go around. This team has 10 transfers on it and nobody gave them a chance at the beginning of the season. Now, their head coach just got fired and everyone thinks it’s a lost season for the Trojans. This is the time to prove something and make a statement to the rest of the Pac-12 that USC won’t be an easy beat the rest of the way. Everyone must have a chip on their shoulder.