There aren’t many chances in the Pac-12 Schedule to boost resumes, which makes Games between the top teams that much more important. USC and UCLA will likely be on the bubble the rest of the way and winning these types of Games will only help. The problem for both of them is that a trip to both Arizona schools is up next, which means this Game is even more important.
The Bruins are at home, but home cOurt hasn’t been a huge benefactor with losses to Cincy and Colorado already this season. They ran through Cal and Stanford in the last two, but this one will undoubtedly be different. The same goes for the Trojans as they’ve been just as good on the road with their only Pac-12 road loss coming by ridiculous buzzer beater at Stanford. If not for that, USC would be tied with Arizona atop the conference.
The biggest thing to watch in this Game is what USC’s defense can do against UCLA’s offense. The Trojans have turned things around defensively in Conference play and haven’t allowed more than 70 points in their last six Games. They have the No. 2 defense in the Pac-12 per efficiency, but UCLA leads the Conference in that aspect offensively. The Trojans have forced a turnover on a ridiculous 24.1 percent of possessions and are best at not allowing free throws. That could play a big part because the Bruins are attempting free throws on 46.3 percent of offensive possessions, which doesn’t even seem possible.
That’s where the big matchup starts with UCLA’s Aaron Holiday probably the best player in the Game, averaging 19 points, 3.6 boards and 5.3 assists per Game. He does it all for the Bruins and even shoots above 40 percent from deep making him a threat in all phases of the Game. If he continues to attack and draw fouls on Jordan McLAughlin and Derryck Thornton, the Bruins get the edge.
However, USC has the edge in the frontcOurt between Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu and Nick Rakocevic, who will have important roles attacking the offensive glass against a team that struggles to rebound. Thomas Welsh is a big guy that averages 10 boards per Game for the Bruins, but athleticism isn’t his key trait and that’s where someone like Metu could be a problem for him. The big thing for Welsh will be to use size to his advantage and work in the post, although he’s more of a pick-and-pop big man.
OUtside of Holiday, the other player USC has to stop is freshman Kris Wilkes, who has really picked it up in Conference play from a scoring perspective. His size (6-foot-8) at the three spot has given plenty of teams problems and it’s a wonder what USC will do against him. The Trojans give up a few inches with Elijah Stewart, but could try and use Shaqquan Aaron a little more if needed.
UCLA is usually a team built around offense, yet it’s been the defense that’s picked it up in recent home wins. That’ll have to be the case in this one against a team that can shoot it at almost every position. The Trojans have the ability to win on the road, but they’ll need to figure out how to contain Holiday first. If not, the task may be too big, even if they win the battle on the offensive glass.
Our Pick – USC +2