<
>

USC-UCLA: Second time through the Pac-10

It's national signing day, so we'll keep it quick. Here are three things to pay attention to that could go a long way toward deciding the winner of tonight's 8 p.m. USC-UCLA game:

1. Can the Trojans keep up with the Bruins' adjustments?

Tonight will mark the start of the second time through the Pac-10 for USC. With that comes an interesting aspect of gameplay that is absent from the first nine games of the season: fixing one's mistakes by watching oneself on film against the upcoming opponent.

Coach Kevin O'Neill said it's the best time -- and only time, really -- to get players to watch film of the opponent. So USC watched a good portion of film from its game last month and got a few new wrinkles to add to its gameplan, O'Neill said.

And the Trojans know this is the most important time to get it going, with only nine games remaining.

“This would be a great time to get started," forward Nikola Vucevic said Tuesday. "It’s the first game of the second part of the conference season and it’s at their place, a rivalry game, so if we come out and win that game I think it’ll help us build on it.”

“They’re gonna bring us their best game," reserve guard Donte Smith said. "We know that. They’re tired of losing to us. And they’re playing good right now, too.”

2. UCLA is 5-1 since losing to USC. USC is 2-4 since beating UCLA. Does that mean anything?

It could, or it couldn't -- depending on how USC treats it.

“If you want to do it in the media talk, we’re two teams headed in opposite directions the last six games, but that doesn’t matter," O'Neill said earlier this week. " Every game’s a new game."

It's a new game, for sure. A new game with big implications.

“They have a chance to cement an NCAA tournament bid over the next couple weeks," O'Neill said. "We’re trying to fight our way back into that picture. Whether we belong in that picture or not is debatable either way, but we’d like to hope we have an opportunity to do that.”

3. Who will win?

A win for USC would mean the Trojans top UCLA five consecutive times for the first time since 1943.

We're convinced the Trojans match up well enough against the Bruins -- especially at the forward spots with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson vs. Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson. USC is better suited than most other teams to play UCLA.

With that, we'll give USC a solid 10-point advantage and predict a win.