Southern Cal Trojans (12-9, 4-4) at Arizona Wildcats (17-4, 6-2)by Javier Morales on Jan. 29, 2011, under Sports
A look at what to expect late afternoon Saturday as Arizona faces a tough USC team while trying to keep pace with Washington in the Pac-10 (more info to come at our partner site, WILDABOUTAZCATS.COM):
Matchups (Tipoff 5:30 p.m., Tucson time)
What’s going right: After sitting out nearly a season and a half following his transfer to USC from Fordham, guard Jio Fontan is averaging 11.4 points and 3.5 assists in his first 11 games. In that span, he leads the team in assists (38), second in points (125), third in three-pointers made (10), fourth in minutes (338) and second in steals (10). USC has gone 6-5 in those games with all five losses by six points or less. Freshman point guard Maurice Jones, 5-7 and 155 pounds, all Pac-10 players by averaging 36.8 minutes per game and is second in steals and fourth in assists. In his last 13 games, Jones has 47 assists and 25 turnovers, while making 33 steals.
What’s going wrong: Following the abrupt decision of freshman guard Bryce Jones to transfer, Kevin O’Neill‘s backcourt (already lacking depth) became very thin. The Trojans’ roster goes about seven deep, so if Fontan, Maurice Jones and/or wing player Marcus Simmons get in foul trouble, O’Neill may have to check if he has any eligibility left.
What’s going right: Lamont “MoMo” Jones and Kyle Fogg, maligned for most of the season, are starting to find their groove. They outplayed the UCLA backcourt of Lazeric Jones and Malcolm Lee and it was not close. MoMo Jones and Fogg combined for 31 points (which included a 16-for-18 performance from the free-throw line). Their combined seven rebounds is a telling stat because it shows how both were extremely active, which was not the case earlier this season. MoMo Jones now also has a team-leading seven steals in conference play after a lack of steals was discussed in this space a couple of weeks ago.
What’s going wrong: Arizona had 17 turnovers against UCLA and the ball-handling starts with the guards. MoMo Jones and Fogg still not at a 2:1 ratio of assists to turnovers in Pac-10 games (42 assists and 28 turnovers).
Who has the edge? Arizona. Fontan and Maurice Jones are very promising talents and will provide the UA a difficult challenge. Fogg looked like a different player against UCLA, assertive from start to finish. Also in terms of Solomon Hill vs. Simmons on the wing, the nod goes to Hill who is all business on the court these days, resembling the characteristics of his coach (Sean Miller).
What’s going right: Easily, the best frontcourt combination in the Pac-10 — and one of the best in the nation in terms of rebounds — is USC’s Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson. Vucevic leads the Pac-10 and is tied for 11th in the country with 12 double-doubles, while Stepheson is second in the conference with 7 double-doubles. The tandem also ranks No. 1 and No. 2 in the Pac-10 in rebounding with Vucevic grabbing 10.1 and Stepheson 8.8 rebounds per game. Vucevic is vying for his second straight year as the league’s top rebounder. The last — and only — UA player to lead the Pac-10 in rebounds was Pete Williams in 1983-84 with 9.9 a game.
What’s going wrong: By being so aggressive around the hoop, Vucevic has a tendency to get into foul trouble. He has fouled out four times this season. Last year, he fouled out at McKale Center with 0.2 seconds left in regulation while Fogg attempted a three-pointer. Fogg made all three free throws to send the game into overtime and the Wildcats eventually won 86-84 in double overtime. Don’t think for a second that Vucevic has forgotten that foul. USC coach Kevin O’Neill‘s reaction with reporters after that game: “Would you be pleased? Everyone knows what happened out there today. It’s no secret. Everyone who was at the game saw what happened. I’m going to leave it at that.”
What’s going right: This category should be changed to “What Derrick Williams is doing:” This is what Williams is doing: He leads the UA regulars in scoring (19.8 a game), rebounding (7.9), steals (21 overall), free throw attempts (actually national-leading 204 tries with 153 converted), field-goal shooting (62.7 percent, 121 of 193), three-point shooting (67.7 percent, 21 of 31) and ESPN SportsCenter dunk replays (too many to count).
What’s going wrong: Frontcourt mate Jesse Perry had only three rebounds in 23 minutes Thursday and is averaging 4.1 in conference games (the same total for the player he replaced in the starting lineup, Jamelle Horne). Perry must have his best rebounding performance against USC for the Wildcats to help negate Stephenson and Vucevic.
Who has the edge?: The wild card here is Perry because Vucevic, Stepheson and Williams are legitimate All-Pac-10 performers. Williams’ all-around ability, inside-and-outside, and drawing fouls is something that Vucevic and Stepheson as a tandem can’t even match. Vucevic and Stepheson have attempted 163 free throws, 41 less than Williams’ total. Slight edge goes to Vucevic and Stepheson because rebounding is so important. It’s up to Perry to even some of that out. Williams will do his part despite nursing a sore pinkie.
What’s going right: Senior guard Donte Smith provides a spark off the bench, especially from three-point range. He has attempted 50 more three-pointers than his next teammate and is shooting at a 40.8 percent clip (51 of 125).
What’s going wrong: Remember when USC was so overloaded that former coach Tim Floyd was forced to make players seek opportunities elsewhere? O’Neill is required to pick up the pieces at USC much like he was expected to coach an Arizona team without an abundance of talent from roster spot No. 1 to 13 while working as interim coach in 2008-09. With Bryce Jones gone, the Trojans have only seven reliable players. Smith and freshman forward Garrett Jackson (only 11.2 minutes a game) are the only players of note off the bench.
What’s going right: In Gumby-like fashion, Alex “Tree” Jacobson electrified his team and the McKale Center crowd Thursday with his best sequence as a college player. Jacobson made UCLA’s Joshua Smith obsolete by out-rebounding and out-hustling the talented freshman in one stretch of the second half. Jacobson only played four minutes but the way he uplifted the crowd was one reason Arizona maintained its level of intensity against the Bruins. Positive energy is what is needed most from bench players. If Jacobson maintains that outlook it benefits the team as a whole.
What’s going wrong: TucsonCitizen.com sports director Anthony Gimino touched on this the other day — the relative disappearance of sophomore center Kyryl Natyazhko. In Pac-10 games, he has as many fouls (12) as rebounds in only 68 minutes played to this point.
Who has the edge?: Arizona. The foursome of Kevin Parrom, Jamelle Horne, Jordin Mayes and Brendon Lavender averages 19.3 points per game in the Pac-10 — 26.2 percent of the Wildcats’ production. USC’s top reserves, Smith and Jackson, combine for 15.1 points a game — 23.2 percent of USC’s output. That’s relatively close but Miller is afforded more options (and fouls) than his counterpart O’Neill.
For the most part, O’Neill — hired by ousted Mike Garrett — is still auditioning for new athletic director Pat Haden, who will likely give the former Lute Olson assistant four years to prove he is worthy of the job. Similarly, Miller is coaching for a boss (Greg Byrne) who is different than the one who hired him (Jim Livengood). The significant difference is Miller has more of an eye toward how Byrne can help his program rather than Byrne judging whether Miller will work out or not for his athletic department. If Miller lasts at least 10 years at Arizona, nobody would be shocked about the longevity (in fact most think he should last a lot longer than that). If O’Neill lasts 10 years at USC, it would be some sort of miracle. O’Neill has coached seven different teams in his 14 years as a head coach. You can see what I’m getting at. Advantage: Arizona.
This game will not be easy because the Trojans are buying into O’Neill’s emphasis on defense and rebounding. With the game in McKale Center, however, and USC running perilously thin on the bench, look for Arizona to eventually wear down the Trojans in the second half and win by 10 points. Williams’ sprained pinkie will get a lot of hype, but he managed to play some with the injury Thursday and appeared to be OK. The key to the game will be Williams getting either Vucevic or Stepheson in foul trouble, which could be crippling for the Trojans.
WildAboutAZCats.com and another partner — SteveRiveraVentures.com — have a promotion this season with Tino’s Pizza in Tucson. During any UA men’s hoops game, order any large pizza (dine-in or carryout) get a discount of $2. Tino’s Pizza was voted as the Best Eastside Pizzeria by the Tucson Weekly last year. If you take advantage of this opportunity at Tino’s save your receipt and mail it to: TINO’S PIZZA / WILDABOUTAZCATS.COM CHALLENGE, c/o Javier Morales, P.O. Box 531418, Henderson, NV 89053 (include your full name, address and phone number). The person who spends the most during this promotion over the UA’s 18-game Pac-10 schedule wins a free Lute Olson-autographed “UA Basketball Vault” book (valued at $50)