Two days ago, we were critical of the team not understanding why UCLA v. USC is a big game. Well, today is full of quotes from the team on why it is a big game. However, today let's delve a bit more into why it is a big game for this season.
But first, since I chastised CBH, for not knowing that we had lost three in a row to U$C, let me begin today with a quote from him saying why it is a big game:
"Your crosstown rival’s a big deal," Howland said. "Our guys will be ready to play, they’ll be ready to play, there’ll be a great crowd. Is there added importance because it’s crosstown? Always."
With 8 days to prepare, I hope so. Lane and Honeycutt seem to get it as well and unlike CBH yesterday they understand recent history:
"Last year, losing to them twice, it really sucks," sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "We’ll be fired up." . . .
Lane said. "They killed us last year, so we really want to come out here and make a statement."
But the game is more than a rivalry or revenge game. Some other reasons this is an important game, not in order.
1. U$C will have one it's top recruits on hand. Funny thing, he is also being recruited by UCLA and is one of the top shooting guards in the country:
USC will have many recruits on hand for Sunday's game, including shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad, a Las Vegas native who is considered one of the top five prospects nationally in the class of 2012.
Shabazz is a top recruit for the 2012 class. It would be nice to get him but a disaster if he went to SUC. We need to make a statement to top recruits that UCLA is the number one destination in LA.
2. The Pac-10 standings. Whoever wins this game will be a great spot to win their next four. We both play the OR schools followed by Cal and Stanford at home. If we lose tomorrow to SUC, even if we win all four of our next games, we could be looking up at USC for a while in the basketball standings. It will make a statement to the Pac-10 we are a contender.
3. For fans of defense on BN, it has been tough to watch USC the last season because they play defense the way UCLA use to play it.
4. The Bench and Jones. SUC has one of the worst benches in the Pac-10. If our bench does not outplay them this game, then it means our bench is just no good period.
U$C does not have a backup PF or Center. With the crazy Pac-10 refs it is hard to predict but Nikola Vucevic, like Smith, is prone to foul trouble. If, just for the sake argument, both miss major minutes because of fouls this is Brendan Lane's chance to shine.
Also, SUC's backcourt depth is better BUT still gives UCLA an interesting potential advantage. The backup guard is 5'11" Donte Smith, actually, I should say the main bench player. Against UW he played 24 of the 29 minutes off the bench and it was an OT game. Coupled with started pointing guard 5'7" Maurice Jones it means that at times SUC's backcourt does not break 6 feet. Will UCLA be able to take advantage, especially Lamb?
Lastly on the bench and the PG position. Arguably Jerime Anderson's worst games last year were against SUC.
One particularly ulcer-inducing moment occurred on the road against cross-town rival USC when Anderson got stripped while in the act of bringing the ball up the floor and calling a play. Marcus Johnson's steal and game-sealing dunk prompted a flurry of text messages to Anderson's cell phone wondering, "What is wrong with you?"
With Jones possibly hurting, Anderson will likely be called upon to do more against SUC. I think everyone agrees that Anderson is playing better than last year. Anderson's effort this year on defense has shown he learned something from last year's debacle. However, I don't think there is any doubt now a healthy Jones is the best PG. Is there more than effort to Anderson's improvement? Sunday may prove it one way or the other.
As Lane said this is a statement game. Let's make a statement. UCLA can play hard for 40 minutes. UCLA's bench can contribute and