January 30, 2013 by Marshall Kelner
By Marshall Kelner
How important is tonight’s rivalry game at Pauley Pavilion for USC? Well, I wrote last week that this current three-game stretch (ASU, Arizona, UCLA) would make or break their season. So far, despite a valiant effort at ASU, the Trojans are 0-2. They have dropped to 3-5 in conference play. A win tonight puts SC at 4-5 at the half way point, with an easier schedule on the horizon. Dropping to 3-6 makes it unlikely the Trojans can get back to .500 the rest of the way. Tonight is a must-win game, but it will be extremely tough. Here are some quick takes on the Crosstown Showdown:
-I believe Shabazz Muhammad and Travis Wear, both questionable for UCLA, will play. Muhammad has been dealing with the flu, and Wear missed the Bruins’ loss to ASU last Saturday after sustaining a concussion against Arizona. The Bruins need both of these guys out there. Muhammad has been sensational, leading the Bruins in scoring (18.2 ppg). He is also by far their best outside shooter, hitting at over 43% from three point range. No one else on UCLA’s roster shoots it well from deep. Wear is UCLA’s third leading scorer and second leading rebounder. Without him, they really have no inside presence. And without Muhammad, the go-to guy is gone. They will likely both play, but watch them early and see how effective they are. Neither will be 100%.
-Expect Bob Cantu to go zone more than usual tonight. UCLA only shoots 34% from beyond the arc, and players not named Shabazz Muhammad are much worse than that. Force the Bruins to beat you from outside. Athletically, I don’t think USC can match up with UCLA. Kyle Anderson has about a seven-foot height advantage on Jio Fontan and J.T. Terrell, and Byron Wesley isn’t quick enough to keep up with Muhammad off the dribble. Not to mention, Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby aren’t strong enough to hang with the Wear twins inside. If USC goes man, their help defense needs to be much better than it was last week against the Arizona schools. However, because of the athleticism UCLA possesses and their ability to get to the rim, I expect a lot of zone.
-USC has to be better on the glass than they have been lately. As big as the Wear twins are though, they only combine for 10.6 rebounds per game. The real area of emphasis has to be on UCLA’s guards. They crash the glass as well as any guards in the nation. Kyle Anderson, the 6-9, 235 pound freakish freshman, leads the Bruins in rebounding with 9.1 per game. USC has to put a body on him. Shabazz Muhammad (4.8) and Jordan Adams (4.0) also get to the glass.
-The Trojans must take care of the basketball. I love that they are playing more free and easy under Bob Cantu, but that can’t mean being careless and turning over the ball. UCLA is much softer defensively than they have been historically under head coach Ben Howland, so you can’t make unforced errors. Take advantage of every possession.
-Following up on the previous take, USC also can’t afford to make stupid mental mistakes and let their emotions get the best of them. Eric Wise‘s technical foul late in the affair against ASU was completely inexcusable. In a rivalry game, the adrenalin will be flowing more than usual. A quick start is essential, and it will be up to the captain Jio Fontan and the coaching staff to calm everyone down in a hostile atmosphere. The crowd will be jacked, Reggie Miller is having his number retired at halftime, and they will want to run USC out of the building in the first five minutes. That’s exactly what happened against Arizona in Tucson. It can’t here. SC needs to withstand the initial surge.
For some good karma, here is my favorite memory from USC-UCLA during my time as a student (2007-2011). It was my freshman year, and the O.J. Mayo led Trojans went into Pauley Pavilion and knocked off #4 UCLA. They came in talking about Mayo, but they left talking about the man in the video below, Davon Jefferson.