January 2, 2014 by Max Meyer
By Max Meyer
USC opens up their Pac-12 slate by playing crosstown rival UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday afternoon. The Trojans actually upset the Bruins at Pauley last season 75-71 in overtime, but that seems like an awfully long time ago. USC and UCLA both had different coaches, and the Los Angeles basketball teams have had to replace a combined five starters from that game last year.
Let’s take a look at how coach Andy Enfield can win in his Pac-12 debut at 12 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 this weekend against UCLA coach Steve Alford, who will be trying to do the same. In doing so, I keyed in on three of UCLA’s toughest games so far this season: a 72-67 win over Drexel, a 80-71 loss versus Missouri and a 80-63 defeat against Duke.
1. Slow Down
This is easier said than done. UCLA thrives playing quickly, as they average 73 possessions per game, which is good for 66th best in the country. Their offensive transition game is one of their biggest strengths, and their ability to put up several points in a flash could doom USC.
USC plays even faster than UCLA, as the Trojans are 48th in the nation by averaging 73.6 possessions per game. Enfield has brought a more up-tempo offense with him, but he will need to slow it down considerably. In USC’s last three games, their possession number has risen to 75.5 per game. While one may argue that that number is skewed because of USC’s overtime victory over Dayton, the Trojans actually had their most possessions in a game this season against Howard, which plays a zone defense like the Bruins.
A striking similarity between UCLA’s three toughest games thus far have been the slow-tempos by those opponents. In terms of possessions per game, Duke, Missouri and Drexel all play significantly slower than UCLA, as none of them are higher than 128th in the country in possessions per game. It makes sense that against those three, UCLA also had three of their four lowest point outputs this season.
The team with the highest-tempo that USC has faced was Villanova, as they are 44th in possessions per game. The Trojans tried to beat the Wildcats at their own game. They failed miserably however, as they lost by 15 and allowed Villanova to score more than 90 points. USC can’t afford to employ this same strategy again. They simply can’t allow UCLA to try to suck them into a shootout.
2. Beat Their Bigs
USC is 25th in the country in rebounding, averaging 40.8 per game. UCLA, meanwhile, is tied for 146th with 36.5 boards per contest. UCLA has two senior big men in twins Travis and David Wear, yet both of their weaknesses is their lack of physical play.
The Wears average a combined 6.7 rebounds per game, which is fewer than Omar Oraby or Byron Wesley’s average rebounding production each contest. While the Wears will be matchup nightmares on offense for Oraby and D.J. Haley because of their ability to score outside of the paint, the Trojans should have no problem outlasting them on the boards.
The Bruins other prominent big man is sophomore center Tony Parker. But, Parker’s production has been very inconsistent this season and he gets into foul trouble frequently. He also is not a great post defender, and unlike the rest of his teammates, he’s an abysmal free-throw shooter.
Point forward Kyle Anderson is UCLA’s best rebounder, averaging almost nine of them per game, but he’ll need some help against USC. In those three contests versus Duke, Missouri and Drexel, UCLA was outrebounded each game and also were hurt tremendously by the high number of offensive boards they gave up. In those matchups, the opponents averaged almost nine rebounds more than the Bruins, including a differential of more than three offensive boards per game.
3. Take Advantage In The Second Half
In their big games, it’s been obvious that the Bruins have slowed down significantly in the second half. Against Drexel, Duke and Missouri, UCLA has either led or been tied after the first half, only to be dominated in the final 20 minutes. In the case of Duke and Missouri, UCLA was outscored by 17 points in each of those second halves. But why have they struggled so mightily in those situations?
In those three games, UCLA has averaged 40.7 points in the first half compared to 34.3 by their opponents. In the second half though, UCLA’s scoring output drops all the way 28, a difference of more than 10 points. Their offense seems to get tired after pushing the ball constantly early in the game, and it results in them taking more lazy and contested three-point shots in the second. In those three second halves, the Bruins have shot 32.9 percent from the field. Even worse, they’ve made only two of their 25 three-point attempts, good for eight percent.
On defense, they allowed an average of 41.3 points in those same second halves. Fatigue also could be a factor, along with strong second-half adjustments by opposing coaches. In a positive for USC, Enfield did just that in their last game against Howard’s zone defense.
After a sluggish first half, Enfield and USC made adjustments in the second half to attack the paint consistently. Point guard Julian Jacobs opened the second half by making two consecutive layups, which eventually opened up USC’s perimeter game. In fact, seven of USC’s first nine shot attempts in that second half were layups, which set the tone for the explosive 20 minutes.
Both teams will want to start the game and their Pac-12 schedule off quickly, but this game will be won in the second half.
1. UCLA makes their free throws at a 74.4 percent clip, which is 36th best in the nation.
2. Gambling time! USC is 6-4-1 against the spread this season, while UCLA is 7-5. The Bruins will be a big favorite in this game, and I expect the line to settle at around UCLA by 10 points. The spread and the point total have not been posted yet for this game.
3. Despite being one of the top offenses in college basketball by averaging 85.5 points per game, the UNDER has prevailed in eight of UCLA’s 12 games. Conversely, the OVER has hit on seven of USC’s 11 games.
4. USC and UCLA women’s basketball teams also played earlier this week at Pauley Pavilion, as the Trojans prevailed in that game 56-54.