Notes from Sunday's USC-UCLA game worth revisiting as the Trojans prep to play the Oregon schools later this week:
As I mention in my postgame video report, USC's Nikola Vucevic was key to the victory, but his performance wasn't mentioned by Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill in his postgame news conference. O'Neill complimented forward Alex Stepheson on his 13-point, 16-rebound day, Bryce Jones for a great stint off the bench and Maurice Jones, Marcus Simmons, Jio Fontan and Donte Smith for solid defensive performances, but didn't mention Vucevic, who finished with a game-high 20 points in 34 minutes.
The consensus on UCLA's Josh Smith? He's big, and he's good. Listed at 6-foot-10 and 305 pounds but appearing significantly heftier than that, the freshman was able to pretty much do what he wanted to USC in the low post when he got the ball, but he didn't get the ball very often. In 22 minutes he took only six shots, making four of them. He was in foul trouble for essentially the entire game, but the Bruins often seemed to look away from him in the post even when he was in the game. Lazeric Jones and Malcolm Lee doubled Smith's shot attempts but made just one-quarter of what he did from the field. Stepheson and Simmons said Smith was the biggest player they had ever played against.
Speaking of Simmons, the senior swingman admitted to feeling a little too hyped-up early as a result of the boisterous crowd. The student section was filled an hour before the game, when the Trojans began to warm up on the court at the Galen Center. "I was surprised to see it was a packed house," Simmons said. The capacity crowd of 10,258 was almost double USC's previous high in home attendance this season -- 5,584 against Washington. Of course the Trojans also played in front of crowds of 16,000 and 19,000 in consecutive games at Kansas and Tennessee.
A telling quote from O'Neill examining Howland and the Bruins' long-term success: "No matter where they are, UCLA is the benchmark to measure yourself against. When you talk about USC and UCLA, we compete against them in everything, so it was a big win for us. When you beat them, you beat tradition. They'll get better. They're really well-coached." O'Neill may be right, but the Trojans now have a significant advantage on UCLA as far as postseason candidacy is concerned this season. The teams have similar records -- 10-6 for USC, 9-6 for UCLA -- but the Trojans have, for the most part, beat the better teams. Now USC must try to take this momentum on the road, where it will open Oregon's new Matthew Knight Arena on national television at 8 p.m Thursday and then face Oregon State on Saturday. Both Oregon schools got swept by the Washington schools last weekend, so they'll have a lot to prove.
We'll have more in advance of Thursday's game, including a practice report Wednesday and a preview of the game Thursday.