USC-Arizona: The (former) recruits

January, 29, 2011
1/29/11
7:42
AM PT
Five questions -- well, four, plus a prediction -- that will go a long way toward deciding today's 4:30 p.m. game against Arizona:

1. How much will Derrick Williams haunt the Trojans?

It's not just Williams. The Wildcats' three leading scorers -- Williams, Solomon Hill and Lamont 'Momo' Jones -- were all USC recruits at one point under former coach Tim Floyd, and all three ended up signing with Arizona and coach Sean Miller.

It was a big story last season when the trio were booed by the Galen Center crowd; it'll be a bigger story this time around because Williams has become so good.

Averaging just 29 minutes per game, Williams is putting up 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game to go along with some gaudy peripheral statistics. At 6-foot-8 and 241 pounds, he's a perfect four at the college level, but he's also shooting 67 percent (21 of 31) from 3-point range this season, 75 percent from the free-throw line and a remarkable 63 percent from the field.

He's scored at least 12 points in every game this season. Hill and Jones combine to average almost 17 points per game, but the Wildcats have a full 10-man rotation so each player gets a few less minutes than you'd expect.

2. Where will USC's offense come from?

Only three of the Trojans' sevem rotation players had good nights against ASU -- Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Jones and Donte Smith. The other players -- including Jio Fontan and Marcus Simmons, who combined for a whopping no points -- struggled. USC still hasn't had a game this season where Vucevic and Fontan have both played well. Smith has often had to be the offensive savior in games this season with his 3-point shooting, but more offensive options will be needed Saturday.

Unless Vucevic and Fontan both have good nights and Jones continues his aggressive efforts from Thursday's game, expect a USC loss.

3. How much zone will the Trojans see?

Arizona State showed USC a lot of zone on Thursday. But the Sun Devils are usually a zone-defense team under Herb Sendek. It also didn't work all that well against the Trojans.

But it'll be interesting to pay attention to Arizona's defensive looks tonight, especially when USC puts together a mini-run and Miller calls a timeout to reset things.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if the next couple teams we play, even man-to-man teams like Arizona and UCLA, they tuck their pride and go zone as well," Fontan said after practice this week. "I would, if I was a coach, seeing what we’ve done so far. We gotta be ready for that."

Indeed. Expect spurts of it from the Wildcats.

4. Can the Trojans play a full 40 minutes?

It'll take a full 40 minutes to beat a team the caliber of Arizona. USC took a few plays off against a lesser opponent in ASU Thursday but won't be able to tonight. And that will be a test for the Trojans, who have consistently been hurt this season by their inability to play an entire, fundamentally sound game. Kevin O'Neill knows it, and his players know it.

"Watching college basketball, a lot of the teams now do a better job than we do of playing complete games," Fontan said. "I feel like we haven’t really played a complete game."

The closest the Trojans have come to that, he said, was the second half of the Kansas game. But they lost that game after starting off badly in the first half. He also mentioned the Texas game, probably USC's most impressive home win this season.

Said Fontan: "Right now, we’re not playing up to that level because we’re expecting to hit the next stage and it hasn’t come yet, but we have to maintain focus like we did in those two games, playing defense and locking down."

5. Who will win?

Arizona, by about 10 points. Williams was too much for UCLA to handle on Thursday, and he'll be too much for USC to handle on Saturday.

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