The semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational were set from the beginning: Southern California vs. UNLV, and North Carolina vs. South Carolina, no matter how they fared in two preliminary games apiece at their home arenas. The winners at Orleans Arena today will face off for the title Saturday; the losers will play a consolation game.
Some quick facts about today’s semifinals:
Key Player: Junior forward Aaron Fuller leads the Trojans with 15 points and 6.6 rebounds per game – and he also made a key steal to help seal USC’s 65-62 victory Tuesday over Morgan State.
Key Stat: USC’s defense is holding foes to 34.5 percent shooting, a conference low. It is also holding opponents to 56.6 points, and 26.3 percent from 3-point land.
Key Player: Mike Moser leads the team with 16 ppg, and his 13 rpg ranks third-best in the country. He sat out last season after transferring from UCLA.
Key Stat: UNLV has won its first five games by an average of 21.2 points.
Prediction: The Trojans beat Morgan State by 3 points in a preliminary round; the Rebels blew out the same opponent by 37. Thus, Dave Rice pushes his record to 6-0 tonight as UNLV’s first-year coach.
Key Player: Junior forward John Henson is averaging 16.5 ppg and 10.8 rpg. He also dished out a career-high 6 assists Tuesday against Tennessee State.
Key Stat: Point guard Kendall Marshall has averaged 8.95 assists, with eight double-digit assist games, over his last 20 outings.
Key Player: Malik Cooke was key to the Gamecocks’ 11-point come-from-behind victory against Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday, scoring 12 points during a pivotal 22-7 run. He leads his team in points (11.8) and rebounds (5.5).
Key Stat: This marks the ninth time the Gamecocks are playing a foe ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.
Prediction: Losses at Elon and to Tennessee State have folks already questioning South Carolina coach Darrin Horn’s job security. Roy Williams, meanwhile, has his squad playing like the Final Four team it is expected to be. The Tar Heels advance to the title game.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.