USC: Johnathan Loyd

Basketball: USC vs. Oregon: Revenge

February, 12, 2011
Five questions -- well, four, plus a prediction -- that will go a long way toward deciding tonight's 7:30 p.m. game against Oregon:

1. Can USC be a bit streaky?

This is USC's fifth in-conference weekend set of games.

The Trojans haven't swept any of them. Three have been splits. One -- the trip to Oregon last month -- was an opponent sweep. It takes a certain sort of character from a squad to sweep a weekend at the college level, and it's become fairly clear this season that USC coach Kevin O'Neill's team is, at the very least, not oozing with that sort of character.

In fact, the Trojans haven't won more than two games in a row all season long, a fairly remarkable statistic. This team is not built to put together win-win-win or loss-loss-loss streaks; this team is clearly quick to adjust its preparation styles and motivation based on wins and losses.

We'll see if that continues to hold true tonight.

2. How much of an impact will Joevan Catron have?

Catron, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound forward and the Ducks' leading scorer, was out the last time these two teams played, a 68-62 Oregon win.

He missed the UCLA game that followed that game but returned the next week for a rivalry game against the Beavers. In his last five games, he's averaging nearly 18 points, seven-plus rebounds and nearly three assists to lead the Ducks to surprising wins over both Washington State and Washington.

He's an interesting challenge for the Trojans in that he's really unlike any other player in the Pac-10 in his strengths and weaknesses. He's big, but not tall. He's quick, but not lightning-quick. Back when USC was first preparing for Oregon last month, O'Neill dropped hints that he was considering using noted defensive stopper Marcus Simmons on Catron for at least some of the game -- to avoid getting forwards Alex Stepheson and Vucevic into foul trouble as a quicker player gets past them and to allow Simmons to play motivated defense on a team's No. 1 player.

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Analysis: Oregon 68, USC 62

January, 13, 2011
Remember how USC basketball coach Kevin O'Neill said the key to beating Oregon's zone was aggressively getting the ball inside to leading scorer Nikola Vucevic and letting the ball flow from there?

It's too bad the Trojans only abided by his plan in the final 10 minutes of Thursday's 68-62 loss to the Ducks, because USC was effective on that end in the final minutes. But the Trojans -- and Vucevic in particular -- were so stagnant offensively in the first 30 minutes that they gave themselves too much ground to make up down the stretch.

USC (10-7, 2-2 in Pac-10) will regret this one later this season when the NCAA Tournament comes into play. Dana Altman's zone defense puzzled the Trojans through and through for much of the game and USC similarly failed to set any sort of commanding tone on the defensive end.

Here's how a typical possession went: freshman point guard Maurice Jones would bring the ball up the court and wait for something to develop. Nothing would. Jones would then pass the ball off to Jio Fontan, Marcus Simmons or Donte Smith on the perimeter. They would then either look for a shot or attempt to pass the ball inside to Vucevic. A pass would likely be rejected or stolen; a shot would usually be missed. Once in a while the Trojans would get out in transition and score fairly efficiently, and Jones sometimes penetrated and created solid attempts.

Other than that, it was pretty pitiful.

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USC-Oregon: The arena opener

January, 13, 2011
Five questions that will go a long way toward deciding tonight's 8 p.m. game against Oregon:

1. How much of an effect will the Ducks' new Matthew Knight Arena, opening Thursday, have on the game?

Oregon is making a big deal about the new stadium, which cost a reported $227 million to construct -- more than 50 percent more than it cost to build the Galen Center in 2006. Of course, the Knight Arena is also unlike anything the college basketball world has ever seen.

USC forward Nikola Vucevic said the atmosphere Thursday night will be "crazy," but he said the Trojans are ready for it. Jio Fontan said the experience of playing Sunday's game against UCLA in front of a loud crowd will help, even though the crowd will be cheering in a different direction.

2. Can USC beat the zone with an outside shooter and scare teams away from sitting in the defense?

This has been the Trojans' single biggest problem in conference road games in past seasons. Teams catch a little bit of momentum to start the game and are able to take a lead and then relax into a slow-paced game featuring a zone defense USC hasn't been able to crack. There's only one real way Kevin O'Neill's team can get Oregon out of the zone consistently: make outside shots.

Said O'Neill: "We've just gotta do what we did against Washington State's zone and Washington's: Get the ball in to Nik, drive it and be aggressive, not passive."

When Vucevic gets the ball in the post, it'll force an immediate double team. Then he'll have an open player to pass to, and Vucevic's passing skills have dramatically improved this season. It'll be up to guys like Bryce Jones and Donte Smith to hit those shots.

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C. Kessler413292350536
J. Allen25013375.39
J. Davis1255504.44
N. Agholor97122312.611
J. Smith5165812.95