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February 15, 2012

UCLA to host arch-rival USC

Just in the nick of time after Saturday's loss to California here come the 2011-12 USC Trojans. What better gift has this season's college basketball to offer to a team in need of re-establishing itself for the home drive of the season?

This is a team truly decimated by departures and injuries. It's enough to make a coach wonder if there might be something after all to those stories of punishment for sins committed in a past life.

If UCLA is struggling due to having prematurely lost three expected starters and having a fourth fail to prepare for the season, SC takes that situation to a whole new - and much lower - level. The Bruins seem in good position to finish the regular season in the upper half of the conference whereas the Trojans have found a place of their own at the very bottom of the heap. Behind Washington State. Behind Arizona State. Even behind Utah.

The Trojans lost to UCLA earlier in the season across the way in their very own Galen Center. It doesn't figure to get better for them Wednesday - that's right, Wednesday - night at the Sports Arena. The game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. PST start, telecast live on FSN Prime Ticket.

The Trojans come into this one on the wings of a nine game losing streak, but it's still a rivalry game and the Bruins haven't shown yet they can take anyone lightly and expect to come away with a victory.

USC Coach Kevin O'Neill took over the reins at Southern California back in April 2009. He inherited a program that had serious problems with the NCAA over rules violations. He is a respected and savvy coach who has done a decent job based on the realities of what he has had with which to work.

O'Neill is 6-20 overall and only 1-12 in conference this season. Usually, the teams' respective records can be thrown out when it comes to this rivalry but this year it just appears to be too far out of balance. There wasn't a whole lot of talent to begin with and then they lost their expected star before the season even began. Nor did it stop there.

They lost Iowa transfer junior Aaron Fuller (6-6, 235) to a torn left shoulder anterior labrum on the 19th of January. That was followed by a season ending injury to Dewayne Dedmon who tore his ACL.

The Trojans nevertheless will come out fighting and will lean heavily on 5-7, 155 pound sophomore Maurice Jones. This diminutive guard is the leading scorer for the Trojans at 13.9 points per game. In fact Jones leads the Trojans in a lot of categories. He leads in steals with 46, assists with 86 and has the dubious distinction of leading in turnovers with 66. Jones, who attracts the lion's share of attention from opposing defenses, has had trouble knocking down shots making only 34.6 percent of his field goals and 29.4 percent of his three point attempts. He shoots a team best 67.3 percent from the foul line.

The second leading scorer for the Trojans is the only player besides Jones to start every game. True freshman Byron Wesley (6-5, 210) is averaging 8.1 points has 47 assists and leads the team in rebounding with an average of 4.8 per game. Wesley shoots 38.8 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from the three point line. He hits his free throws at an anemic 49 percent.

Sophomore Garrett Jackson (6-6, 225) puts up 6.0 points a game. He leads the team in blocked shots with 14 and gets an average of 2.9 rebounds per game. He is shooting 40.8 percent from the floor and just 25.6 percent from behind the arc. Jackson is hitting 64.7 percent of his free throws which is second on the team. At last, someone more anemic than the Bruins from the charity stripe.

Due to the injuries, players like true freshman Alexis Moore (6-2, 180) are seeing a lot of playing time, ready or not. Moore averages 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and has 17 steals to his credit. He is a 29.1 percent shooter from the field and a 26.8 percent from beyond the three point line. Moore as the case with all the Trojans has had a tough time at the free throw line hitting only 58.3 percent of his attempts.

Stepping into the middle for the injured Dedmon is 7-1 260 pound junior James Blasczyk. Blasczyk is averaging 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds and is shooting 42.3 percent from the field. Blasczyk is a work in progress who at least gives it his all every game.

USC averages 53.3 points per game while surrendering 59.3. Like other O'Neill teams, the Trojans can hang in games for awhile by playing hard on defense but the losses have simply been too many to enable them to translate that effort into anything close to victories.

You get the impression the remaining Trojans aren't a very good shooting team and that impression would be correct. SC has held opponents to 43.5 percent shooting from the floor but has connected on just 39.1 percent of their own shots. The Trojans have made just 27.9 percent of their three point attempts. And SC is making just 61.1 percent of their free throw attempts.

To translate that into Pac-12 statistics, SC is last in the conference in field goal percentage, last in three point percentage and also last in free throw percentage.

The Trojans have a negative 7.8 rebounding margin. This is a team the Bruins should actually out-rebound despite its three guard lineup.

The Trojans average only 9.1 assists a game while turning it over 11.2 times per game. They are averaging 5.8 steals a game.

SC will play hard even though they will be badly out-manned. They will attempt to ride their defense and hope to slow it down and keep it close enough that they can find some way, some how, to steal a victory.

UCLA on the other hand will be looking to focus and play a lot better than they did Saturday against California. They will try to come out not nearly so tight, work the ball inside out and run whenever possible.

Truly, it's really hard to envision this one being at all close for the final 15 or so minutes of the game if not a lot longer than that.

Florida NEWS


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