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UCLA Basketball: USC Preview -- It's Bigs Vs. Guards Again

The Bruins look to achieve their goal of three wins in nine days by beating USC in the Galen Center tomorrow night. Seems like the same old PAC-12 story: their guards versus our bigs. If Looney continues on his streak, the trogans won't be able to deal with the Bruin interior. A win would give the Bruins momentum for next week's Oregon trip starting with surprising Oregon State next Thursday night.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins go for three in a row tomorrow night against USC in the Galen Center. I haven't seen the line yet, but my guess is UCLA -3 (i.e., we're the favorite).  Just two points you say? I thought they were a massive cupcake 11 days ago, but their performance is fairly similar to ours in the conference: both lost in humiliating fashion to Utah and both clobbered Cal. We beat Stanford in 2OT; they lost by 2 with a chance to tie. We were closer to Colorado than they were.

The Bruins will be OK if they stick to the script -- the old script but with a suddenly new-found willingness to execute it. That's what happens when you are bottom out. The Bruins were one free throw away or bad out-of-bounds call from falling into the abyss, but Kevon Looney gave them life3/4 of the way into the Stanford game.

That winning formula, the inside-outside game, should work well against the trogans. Actually, it should work well against every PAC-12 team except Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Washington -- the teams with a substantial interior defense.

But that's not USC. Once again, we have an opponent who is clearly better than us at the guard positions, Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart and Julian Jacobs, but who shouldn't give Looney and Parker too much trouble. Take a look at the box score from the Stanford game (recall that this was McLaughlin's first game back from a shoulder injury so he didn't start). Nastic scored 15 (11 VS. and fouled out) and Roscoe Allen had 18 (14 vs. UCLA) and were able to hold the USC front court to 13 (Jovanovic) and 9 (Martin) -- around their season averages. The trogans managed to contain Randle (perhaps they listened to the scouting report on Randle's tendencies), so the you have to credit the Stanford bigs - that's good news for us.

Though not a prolific shooter from the perimeter, McLaughlin is small and fast and will penetrate. I suspect Hamilton will guard him. Once again, Parker and Looney will have to clog the lane without getting in foul trouble. On the other hand, Julian Jacobs is good from long-range. The Bruins will have to close him out, and not allow a repeat of the Cal Jordan Matthews explosion. Norman and Stewart are both athletic, so I would suspect that to be a match-up, but Steve Alford has been shifting the man coverage on the guards in game a lot -- he thinks it adds confusion, but the Bruins don't have the defensive horses for that strategy to be effective. If Jacobs is hot, expect to see Norman on him.

In the end, defensively, the Bruins have to keep McLaughlin out of the lane, prevent Jacobs from getting off, and likely lay off Stewart. Norman Powell's defense will be one of the keys so that the offense from their guards does not overcome the Bruin offense from Looney/Parker

Looking at the stats, USC appears to be the better defensive team while UCLA is the better offensive team. The trogans do, however, allow a lot of offensive rebounds -- again, our specialty. The oddity is offensive OR%, our supposed strength. We lead in offensive rebounds per game, but we take and miss a lot of perimeter shots, so potentially those long rebounds lowers our percent share of rebounds.

Pts FG% FT% 3P% Rebs OR DR Assists TO Stls Blk eFG% FTR OR% TO%
USC 67.8 42.6 63.8 29.8 38.1 12.9 25.2 12.6 13.3 6.9 4.2 46.5 35.6 35.3 19.2
UCLA 72.8 41.8 64.2 35.3 41.4 13.9 27.4 14.4 12.6 7.4 4.3 47 39.3 34.7 17.8
USC Def 68.3 41.1 68.9 31.8 36.3 12.6 23.7 13.4 13.3 6.7 4.1 46.8 28.3 33.3 19.2
UCLA Def 69.9 40.5 70.6 34.2 37.1 10.9 26.2 13.8 13.2 6.8 3.8 47.4 33.6 28.4 18.6

It's technically a road game, but I'm cautiously optimistic for the Bruins. The trogans defensive strength is based in their athletic guards. I don't think they have the front line horses to stop Looney and Parker.