by: John Chase
USC enters this game with an 17-13 record and are 9-8 in Pac-10 play, most recently having lost to WSU 85-77. Nikola Vucevic had 22 points and 11 rebounds.Maurice Jones added 16 points and Jio Fontan dished out a very nice 7 assists with only 1 turnover.
USC is currently averaging 67.1 points per game and 33.9 rebounds per game. They also bring in 12.1 assists per game and 11 turnovers per game, including 2.2 per game by starting point guard Maurice Jones and 2.3 per game by guard Jio Fontan.
Nikola Vucevic is by far the most dangerous player in the USC line up, averaging a double double with 17.6 ppg and 10.3 rpg. He is a beast in the post and will be a tough challenge for our bigs to contend with. Add in Alex Stephenson who is also near a double double average with 9.9 ppg and 8.8 rpg and you have yourself a very dangerous duo. MBA will likely guard Vucevic as Vucevic has a nice outside shot. This will allow Aziz to stay close to home in the middle of the key to get rebounds and play tough defense. The one bonus is the USC frontcourt is not deep. After Vucevic and Stephenson, USC does not have any contributing forwards. Garrett Jackson averages 3.7 ppg and 1.8 rpg. Thankfully we have Darnell Gant who is averaging 5.2 ppg and 3.4 rpg, though he can score much more than 6 on any given night.
Another tough assignment is Jio Fontan. Isaiah will likely be given the responsibility of handling Fontan. Fontan has made 17 of his 48 three point attempts. Fontan is averaging a team high 4 assists, but is a measly 61% from the free throw line.
Starting Line Ups:
Maurice Jones 5-7 155lb G
Jio Fontan 6-0 175lb G
Marcus Simmons 6-6 220lb G
Nikola Vucevic 6-10 240lb F
Alex Stephenson 6-10 250lb F
Isaiah Thomas 5-9 185lb G
Venoy Overton 6-0 185lb G
Justin Holiday 6-6 185lb F
Matthew Bryan-Amaning 6-9 240lb F
Aziz N’Diaye 7-0 260lb C
Keys to the Game:
Rebounding – This is the biggest issue the Huskies will have to deal with. USC does not rebound by committee, rather USC rebounds via Vucevic and Stephenson who account for half of USC’s rebounds. MBA and Aziz will have their work cut out for them. Aziz needs to show he can be dominate once more on the glass against tough foes. Now that he is able to play 20+ minutes a game, his numbers are improving and his impact is becoming greater. If MBA and Aziz can combine for 15 or 16 boards while limiting the USC duo to 12 or 14 we should consider their play a success. Vucevic and Stephenson will get boards no doubt, how many depends on the sort of effort MBA and Aziz put out. Our other players need to limit their opponents from getting loose balls as well, especially off long range misses. The less second chance points USC gets the better off we shall be.
Pressure Defense – Though USC is only averaging 11 turnovers a game, their three main guards are averaging a combined 7.2 turnovers a game, the lowest is Bryce Jones at 1.7 per game. Vucevic is also averaging 1.6 turnovers while Stephenson is averaging 1.5 per games. Last season, USC was highly susceptible to 3/4 and full court pressure defense and so far it appears it is true once more. If UW want to control this game they need to get the tempo going in their favor and that means getting the ball out in transition. USC usually runs a good half court offense so forcing them to step up the tempo and play faster than usual should create more turnovers and opportunities for the Huskies to score. This will also limit 3 point opportunities for Fontan and Bryce Jones, both of whom can shoot the long ball with some proficiency. The soft on ball, full court pressure UW applied against UCLA was highly successful and kept the game competitive when our shots weren’t falling.
Shooting – If we can get our perimeter shots to drop, our post players will have an easier day with a little less pressure on their backs. If we can’t get the ball to drop from range, we will struggle mightily. USC’s frontcourt is tough and scoring on them will prove to be tough as well. If we can get scoring, USC won’t stand a chance. Look for C.J. Wilcox to have another good night, but I highly doubt he is going to drop 24 again. USC will be looking to shut him down.
Passing – Game in and game out, this is a very deciding factor. When we play lazy and don’t pass well we tend to lose. We only had 13 assists against UCLA, but also only had 22 makes so the percentage is nice and the number is actually better than it looks. UW needs to continue to work in transition, moving the ball around quickly. On the road against USC, UW had 0 transition points. USC likes to fall back and cram the middle, its why they rebound so poorly.
It’s senior night. If the Big Three have half the night Quincy Pondexter did on his senior night, USC won’t stand a chance. Venoy Overton will start the game. No doubt in my mind. C.J. will still see plenty of minutes. Minus the atrocious play against WSU, UW is undefeated at home with all but the UCLA game being a 10 point win. No way the seniors let this game fall. No way in hell. Big players play big on big nights. Time for the Seniors to do their job and go out with a bang.
Final Score Prediction: