USC: Matthew Bryan-Amaning

Simmons' defense honored by Pac-10

March, 7, 2011
3/07/11
2:06
PM PT
USC guard Marcus Simmons has been named the Pac-10's defensive player of the year in a Monday vote of the conference's coaches.

Simmons, a senior, was praised all year by Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill for his defensive capabilities, and he came through on the expectations with big-time performances against the best in the conference, including Washington State's Klay Thompson, Stanford's Jeremy Green, Washington's Isaiah Thomas and UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt, holding all four of them well below their season-long shooting percentages in matchups against USC.

USC forward Nikola Vucevic was named to the All-Pac-10 first team after earning most improved player honors a year ago. Arizona's Derrick Williams earned Pac-10 player of the year honors, beating out Vucevic and Thompson.

Other awards: Arizona's Sean Miller was named coach of the year, Washington's Matthew Bryan-Amaning was named most improved player and Cal's Allen Crabbe was named freshman of the year.

USC's Maurice Jones was named to the all-freshman team.

The rest of the awards are available here.

Basketball: USC 62, Washington 60

March, 6, 2011
3/06/11
7:25
PM PT
Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic both produced big-time games and USC came away with a closer-than-it-had-to-be two-point win, 62-60, at Washington's Alaska Airlines Arena on Saturday.

Fontan scored 20 points, Vucevic had 19 points and 10 rebounds and senior Alex Stepheson provided a big 11-point, 14-rebound line as the Trojans pulled off the upset, but they almost let the game go away in the final minutes. They led by 14 points with 13 minutes to go in the game and by eight with five minutes to go until Washington had a last-second opportunity to pull it close when USC missed a few free throws.

USC won by not letting any of the Huskies' many scorers get really hot. Sure, Washington had four double-digit scorers, but even leading scorer Isaiah Thomas didn't have his best game as he was clearly disrupted throughout the game by USC defensive stopper Marcus Simmons. UW forwards Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, averaging a combined 28 points on the year, had just 11 Saturday.

The win is a big one for USC, giving the Trojans victories against all but one team -- Oregon -- in the Pac-10 this season. The Trojans had lost a similar game to the Huskies at home in December, so it represents a marked improvement for Kevin O'Neill's squad to record the victory, and it correspondingly gives them quite a bit of momentum heading into Thursday's noon game against Cal at the Staples Center in the second round of the Pac-10 tournament.

So USC (18-13, 10-8 in the Pac-10) is not in position to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournment -- as I see it, at least -- because the 14 losses the Trojans will have if they don't win the conference tourney are just one or two too many for what would be a 20-win team in the conference. But the road to the conference title isn't insurmountable. USC will face Cal Thursday, and then would likely face Arizona on Friday and either UCLA or Washington on Saturday if they kept up winning.

O'Neill's squad has beaten all three of those teams on the season. USC is definitely not a team suited to do well in back-to-back-to-back play, with only seven rotation players, but it's not all that hard to imagine a scenario where the Trojans take care of business Thursday and pull off two minor-to-medium upsets Friday and Saturday.

Only time will tell. It all starts Thursday.

USC vs. Washington: Playing for a seeding

March, 5, 2011
3/05/11
5:29
PM PT
Five questions -- well, four, plus a prediction -- that will go a long way toward deciding today's 7:30 p.m. game against Washington:

1. Is there enough left to play for?


An at-large bid is now officially out of the question for the Trojans (17-13, 9-8) after Thursday night's loss to Washington State, so USC is left playing tonight's game for an opportunity for a better seeding in the Pac-10 tournament next week at Staples Center. We detailed all the different seeding possibilities in an earlierin post, but, to summarize it, the Trojans can assure themselves themselves a No. 4 seeding with a win against the Huskies. They could still finish fourth no matter what they do if Cal and Washington State end up losing, but that's unlikely.

All season long, the stated goal for the Trojans has been to finish at the top of the conference or as close to the top as possible, but, in actuality, they're a middling team in the Pac-10, regardless of what happens tonight.

2. Another big game for Nik Vucevic?


Nikola Vucevic last 10 games have been Player of the Year caliber. He's averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds in his last 10 contests, spanning to late February, and has frequently carried the Trojans during that stretch.

He'll probably have to do that again tonight for USC to have any chance at upsetting the Huskies.

Then again, Vucevic had perhaps the best game of his career against Washington -- 28 points on nine field goal attempts and 14-of-14 free-throw shooting -- in December at the Galen Center, and the Trojans still fell short in a 73-67 overtime loss. Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill memorably said after that game that he was disappointed his team "wasted" a great performance from Vucevic.

(Read full post)

USC-Washington: The Pac-10 opener

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
6:28
PM PT
A few notes and things to pay attention to during tonight's 7:30 p.m. game:
  • Washington was widely pronounced as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-10, but the Huskies didn't exactly back it up in preseason play with losses to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M. Still, the Lorenzo Romar-coached Huskies will present one of the biggest threats of any to the Trojans this season. They are probably the deepest team in the conference, and their starting lineup is more than a bit reminiscent of a deeper, more-experienced USC team -- although perhaps not as top-heavy, which could help USC if stars Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic play well tonight. Washington forwards Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday, both seniors, have added almost a combined 12 points to their scoring average this season. That's an impressive feat for four-year players in one program, and Bryan-Amaning in particular has been a great weapon for Romar this season.
  • USC needs to get a big game from Vucevic to win this one. Struggling of late, he must help facilitate the Trojans' offensive sets when Fontan, Donte Smith and Maurice Jones are bogged down by Washington's many guards. He must also resist the urge to shoot threes and instead work inside, where the Huskies were very vulnerable last season. Of course, Romar signed junior-college transfer Aziz N'Diaye, a 7-footer, precisely for this reason, but N'Diaye is inexperienced and still vunerable to Vucevic's polished post moves. USC forward Alex Stepheson vs. Bryan-Amaning will be a great matchup.
  • The player to watch for Washington is 5-foot-9 junior guard Isaiah Thomas, who's averaging 15.8 points, 3.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds for the Huskies. He plays off the ball, with 6-3 sophomore Abdul Gaddy holding down the point duties. Thomas struggled mightily in two games against the Trojans last season, averaging 9.5 points as the Huskies lost both times. Venoy Overton, a senior guard, was Washington's top scorer in USC's 87-61 win over the Huskies at the Galen Center last January. But Overton is having his worst season since his freshman year and averaging fewer than six points. Swingmen C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs have taken some of his minutes and have both been able to produce the occasional big game this season -- Suggs scored 15 against USF last week and Wilcox 20 against Long Beach State last month. Sound like a lot of different players for the Huskies? It is. Romar has a 10-man rotation he uses religiously.

The pick? USC, in a close one, with both teams scoring under 70 points. We'll have a postgame report on the blog.

USC-Lehigh: The final tune-up

December, 23, 2010
12/23/10
8:37
AM PT
A few notes and things to pay attention to during tonight's game:



  • As we noted in the USC-Tennessee postgame report, forward Nikola Vucevic didn't have a great road trip, totaling just 17 points in the two games against Kansas and UT. How can Vucevic rebound? Well, playing against a team with only one key player taller than 6-foot-7 should help. It will be interesting to see if Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill goes to Vucevic early, as his performances lately have pretty much been determined by how he starts. Get going early, and he should be good to go. Re-establishing Vucevic tonight is important for USC, simply because it is his final chance before Pac-10 play starts and he'll be forced to go head-to-head with the Matthew Bryan-Amaning and DeAngelo Castos of the world.
  • And Jio Fontan? Considering his first two games in a USC uniform were against who they were against and considering he scored 15 and 13 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, he's certainly been a successful -- and necessary -- addition so far. Now the challenge is assimilating him into the offense a bit better, which we started to see on Tuesday but saw little of against Kansas, with his oddly-timed drives to the hoop in the first half of that game. Can Fontan be a true shooting guard, or does he need the ball in his hands a lot to feel comfortable? If so, maybe Maurice Jones should be the one playing off the ball. Jones did that his senior year of high school in Saginaw, Mich.; Fontan hasn't yet proven capable of that but still could. Where does Donte Smith fit into all of this? Surprisingly, the senior guard is scoring just as much as forward Alex Stepheson through 12 games. When Smith, Fontan and Jones were on the court at the same time against Tennessee, USC's offense seemed to run particularly well. Let's watch how it goes against Lehigh tonight.
  • The player to watch for Lehigh is guard C.J. McCollum, a rising sophomore who was the Patriot League Player of the Year last year as a freshman. By all accounts, he's an impressive player and truly one of the best USC will encounter this year. He's had only non-double-digit scoring game this season and three games in which he scored more than 30 points, including a huge 42-point outburst in a loss at Kent State the day after Thanksgiving. McCollum had a lethal 3-point stroke last season, at 42 percent, but that area of his game has fallen off somewhat this year. Of course, Lehigh made the NCAA Tournament last season as a No. 16 seed and was saddled with playing No. 1 Kansas in the first round -- a game they actually played very well in and a game in which McCollum posted a memorable line that included 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. Other notable players for the Mountain Hawks: swingman Michael Ojo, from Santa Monica Crossroads School, and forward Gabe Knutson, a 6-foot-9 Iowa native averaging 12.5 points per game this season.

We'll have a postgame report on the blog.

Final: USC 67, Washington 64

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
11:49
PM PT
It wasn't as easy this time around, but USC beat Washington again Thursday night 67-64 at the Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle.

A complete team effort gave the Trojans the victory. Guard Dwight Lewis led all scorers with 22 points, but three other USC players scored least 10 points. Only two Huskies were in double figures — guard Quincy Pondexter (18 points) and forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning (14).

USC led 32-24 at halftime, but the Huskies put together a second-half run to close to within 61-60 after Venoy Overton converted a layup with 1:25 left.

But USC's Mike Gerrity took control from there, making a layup and a clutch jumper while controlling possession of the ball. Overton made one free throw and a late 3-pointer, but it was too little too late, as USC earned the victory.

USC coach Kevin O'Neill relied almost exclusively on forward Leonard Washington as his power forward, playing Alex Stepheson only 11 minutes. Washington responded well to his 29 minutes on the court, recording eight points, eight rebounds and a steal.

For the Trojans (16-9, 8-5), it was their first true road victory outside of Los Angeles this season. USC had won the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii in December on a neutral court and beat UCLA in Westwood last month — but that was it.

Thursday was only the second loss in 18 home games this season for the Huskies (17-9, 7-7). The Bank of America Arena at the "Hec Ed Pavilion," as it's known, was bouncing in the second half of the game, but Gerrity's shot quieted the crowd.

The Trojans now travel to Pullman, where a matinee with Washington State awaits them on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Cougars fell 71-51 to UCLA on Thursday night.

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