UW/USC Mini-Preview: Can MBA Continue His Mini-Surge Against Tough Trojan Forwards?

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We’re going with streamlined previews for this weekend’s games in the ongoing experiment to see what works best at Montlake Madness. Please let me know your thoughts on this “column-style” preview vs. a more traditional one. And, thanks for coming!

Here are the basics:

Who: Washington Huskies (7-6, 17-8 overall) vs. USC Trojans (7-5, 15-9 overall)

When: Thursday, 7:30 PM

Where: Hec Edmundson Pavilion

If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic about the Huskies’ beyond the Pac-10 season and tournament, I’d say you should look at the improved play of Matthew Bryan-Amaning over the last few weeks.

The sometimes-sensitive Brit has silenced critics lately — and even managed to win some fans in the media — by scoring eight or more points in six of the last eight games, and double figures in his last three. He’s also blocked 11 shots in his last five games, as many as he swatted in the 14 previous games. MBA may not be registering as a “big” of prominence on the national level, but he’s starting to show signs of competing at a higher level against Pac-10 competition, something he struggled with until recently.

The biggest test of Matthew’s recent success will come Thursday night as the Dawgs host USC, who trounced them in LA, 87-61. He’ll be matched at various points against tough forward Leonard Washington, and two players who killed the Huskies last time out, Alex Stepheson (15 pts, six rebounds) and Nikola Vucevic (11 pts, 13 rebounds).

Whether MBA, a starter again after an 11 game stint as a reserve, can use his renewed confidence to hold his own in the paint will go a long way to determining whether the Huskies can achieve a season split with the Trojans.

This statistical uptick in the last part of a junior year is not unprecedented on this Husky team. Just last season, Quincy Pondexter went from being the team’s third or fourth best player to one of the keys in locking up the Pac-10 championship and a near-miss of the Sweet 16.

Of course, whether this is simply a bit of a hot streak for MBA, or everyone’s favorite underachiever is really (finally!) coming into his own, remains to be seen. My money is on The New MBA being here to stay. What do you think?

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The other key matchup Thursday night will be Quincy Pondexter vs. Marcus Johnson. While Pondexter’s chances of being a first-round draft pick have moved upward all season long, Johnson outplayed Quincy on both ends of the court last time and clearly looked like the more NBA-ready guy. Big chance for Quincy to show that the last time out was just a bad (okay, very bad – 2 points on 1-10 shooting) night.

My pick: This one worries me more than any of the following four. At our best, we can beat UCLA, Wazzu, Oregon and Oregon State, our building or not. But, last time out, USC just looked like the more talented, more athletic team.

Even with home court advantage and a strong Husky effort, if the Trojans play their best game, the Dawgs might not win. But, at some point it’s got to become clear to the Trojans that they’ve got nothing to play for. I think the Huskies come out hungrier here and get the “W.” Huskies 76, Trojans 66.