Monday, February 05, 2007

UCLA vs. USC - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No. 2 ranked UCLA Bruins take on crosstown rival No.19/21 ranked USC at Pauley Pavilion in a battle for first place in the Pac-10.

The Bruins enter the contest sitting atop the Pac-10 with a conference 9-2 record, while the Trojans are tied for second-place with Washington State with a record of 8-3.

In the team's first meeting in January, Arron Afflalo hit a 15-foot jumper with 4.7 seconds remaining to help UCLA beat USC in a thriller, 65-64.

UCLA had fallen behind by as much as ten points in the second-half, but Afflalo and Darren Collison rallied the Bruins to set up the game-winner.   Collison led all scorers with 17 points and Afflalo added 15.

Sophomore wing Josh Shipp missed the first USC game due to a hamstring injury with Michael Roll taking his place in the lineup, but Shipp has completely recovered and is anxious to play the crosstown rivals.

"He (Shipp) makes everybody's job easier," Afflalo said. "We're a team where we
rely on everybody for something. Whether it's scoring, rebounding,
defending, everybody has to play their part. When Josh is out, is makes
it harder on me, harder on Darren, harder on other players."

USC Head Coach Tim Floyd has his team playing excellent defense.  The Trojans are allowing Pac-10 opponents just 40.5% shooting from the field, good enough for second-best in the conference.  Against UCLA, the Trojan defense will alternate between a man-to-man and an aggressive match-up zone.

The Bruins have recently countered against match-up zones to varying success by either going to a four-guard alignment to attack the zone, or by using the motion offense they use against man-to-man defensive alignments.  It will be interesting to see how the Bruins fare against the Trojans this time around.  In the first game the Bruins struggled against the Trojan zone until they started hitting their outside shots late in the second-half.  Obviously, the Bruins will want to attack it aggressively from the start in this game.

Offensively, USC has weapons all over the court.  They are second-best in the Pac-10 shooting 48.9% from the field and have begun shooting well from three-point distance at a conference best 43.1%.  They will likely try to spread the floor and attack the Bruins from the perimeter off the dribble.  It was effective last season against the Bruins, however with the lack of a true point-guard, the Trojans may not have the ball-handling and quickness on the perimeter to pull it off this season.

USC Probable Starters

Nick YoungG-F6-6195Jr.2432.417.04.61.5
Lodrick StewartG6-4210Sr.2430.513.63.81.3
Taj GibsonF6-9210Fr.2432.
Gabriel PruittG6-4170Jr.1330.
Dwight LewisG6-5190Fr.2420.

Junior Nick Young is the team's leading scorer at 17 points a game.  His shot-selection has improved tremendously under the tutelage of Tim Floyd. Young is shooting 52.4% from the field and an astounding 46.4% from three-point distance.  Young can also slash to the basket and finish strong and has an excellent mid-range game.  The best way to guard Young is to keep the ball out of his hands.  Once he has the ball, Young has the ability to score in an array of ways.

UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will get the initial assignment against Young.  Mbah a Moute has recently shown renewed vigor in his play.  Bothered by knee tendinitis for parts of the season, in the past few games he has been quicker to the ball and has rebounded better.  Offensively, he is finding the ball close to the basket and has been knocking down his midrange shots.  He has made twelve consecutive shots spanning the last two games.

Center Taj Gibson has had an outstanding freshman campaign.  Opponents are beginning to key on him in games which has resulted in his points and rebounds to decrease slightly, but it has conversely created scoring opportunities for teammates.  Still, Gibson is shooting an impressive 61.4% from the field - since slam dunks tend to be high percentage shots.  He is agile and extremely quick off his feet.

Gibson will certainly command the attention of UCLA's big men again.  In the first meeting, the tag team of Lorenzo Mata and Alfred Aboya recorded 17 points and 16 rebounds to Gibson's 9 points and 8 rebounds in 40 minutes of play.  UCLA doubled down on Gibson at times in an effort to great turnovers, since he tends to be turnover prone, and will no doubt apply similar pressure on him Wednesday.

Since returning to the line-up, Gabe Pruitt has been a steadying influence at the point.  While still adjusting to distributing the ball to teammates, he has maintained an admirable 1.63 assists-to-turnover ratio.  At times he battles against his own bad shot selection and has a tendency to force things on offense, but the Trojans would not be where they are now without Gabe Pruitt.

Arron Afflalo effectively checked Pruitt in the last game, limiting him to 3-10 shooting.  At certain times, UCLA tried Darren Collison on him, but at 6'4, Pruitt was just too big and rangy for Collison to handle.

Senior Lodrick Stewart is a streaky shooter who can sometimes win or lose games for the Trojans with his shooting alone.  Blessed with outstanding shooting range, he is 43.9% from three-point distance with nearly half his shots coming from beyond the arc.  He is shooting 45% overall from the field.

A healthy Josh Shipp will get the initial assignment against Stewart.  Shipp will be fighting multiple screens all night to guard Stewart and will need to close out effectively against the Trojan long-range bomber.

Stewart is a solid defender and is usually assigned the opponents toughest scorer on the wing.  He was guarding Arron Afflalo when he hit the game-winner against USC in January.

Dwight Lewis has been the fifth starter for most of the season, although at times RouSean Cromwell and Abdoulaye N'diaye have started to give the Trojans more size up front.  Lewis will likely get the start on Wednesday since the Trojans will probably try to spread their offense and attack with four perimeter players.  The freshman Lewis can hit from the outside but his value comes from his defense and hustle on the floor.

The first game in January between the two schools was a classic with Arron Afflalo's game-winning shot surely to go down in history as one of the greatest moments of the rivalry. 

The Trojans had outplayed the Bruins for most of the game, only to allow them to rally for the victory.  At Pauley, the Bruins are a different ball club having won 17 consecutive games at home.

With the support of the home crowd and excitement of the rivalry game, UCLA should have no trouble starting the game with an intense effort.  The Bruins' quickness advantage on the perimeter and ability to create transition basket opportunities will be a key to the game.

UCLA did an excellent job defensively against Oregon last week in denying dribble penetration to Aaron Brooks and rotating defensively when he did get through.  Although they lack the quickness of Oregon, USC will be trying to do the same thing with their four-guard alignment, nonetheless, the Bruins will need to put forth the same keen defensive effort against the Trojans.

BBR Notes: UCLA moved to the second spot in the Associated
Press poll and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll. In the AP poll,
five other Pacific 10 Conference teams were ranked, more than any other
conference, with Oregon, Washington State, USC, Arizona and Stanford
all making the list.

"It's very clear six teams in our conference are for sure in the NCAA tournament right now and there's still a
chance to get a seventh," UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland said.

1/12 UCLA vs. USC - Game Preview

1/14 UCLA Bigs Get It Done, Afflalo Hits Game Winner

(photo credit: AP and USC Athletics)



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