By Alejandro Madrid-Lead Writer for ReignofTroy.com
USC arrives in Seattle having won five of their last seven, but they are coming off of a lackluster performance in Pullman. The Trojans, who are an underwhelming 4-8 on the road, dug themselves a large hole early and were never able to recover against the Cougars. The loss ended their chances of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, and it will be interesting to see how they rebound from such a deflating loss as they play a team hungry to punch their dance ticket.
USC ranks 230th in scoring (67.1 PPG) and 132nd in shooting percentage (44.4%). Nikola Vucevic, who was named the Pac-10 Player of the Week last week, is the best offensive player. He averages a double-double (17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds) and consistently turns in quality performances. Because his play is constant, the offense goes as the guards go. USC is at its finest when its guards knock down shots and penetrate inside to create either layups or free throws. Done Smith has emerged during his senior season as a sharp shooter from beyond the arc, but he has struggled as of late. However, Smith, who just became a starter on January 22, has breathed life into the offense by adding a shooting guard to the lineup and spreading out defenses. Starting guard Jio Fontan has seen his point production drop drastically, but he has played the role of distributor well. Things have not been smooth sailing for much of the season though. Problems arise when the guards live on the perimeter, slowly work the ball around and then jack up a shot late in the shot clock.
USC lives and dies playing man-to-man. Despite being the team’s main focus, defense has been hit-and-miss over the course of the year. At home, USC has turned in some incredible defensive performances. Stanford shot a school-record low 22.2% at Galen Center, and Arizona State shot a meager 30.6%. On the road however, the story has been different. Arizona nailed 61.2% of their shots in Tucson and Wazzu netted 54.7% on Thursday. The Trojans best defender is Marcus Simmons, who often matches up with the opponent’s leading scorer. Inside, Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson are tall forces, but Washington State showed it is possible to put up big numbers.
The best way to beat USC is to keep the tempo of the game high. A faster pace means more possessions and the opportunity to score more points. When games are in the high 50s or low 60s, USC is virtually unbeatable. They are experts at grinding it out and winning the kind of low-scoring game that is not very pleasurable to watch but still counts in the win column. However, they do not have the offensive prowess to keep up with teams that score in the 70s of 80s. Should Washington come close to their season average, they should be able to beat USC.