This is the most interesting game of the year so far to me. Southern Cal has more talent. Some of the best players money can buy. They may have the worst coach in the Pac-12 now that Wyking Jones and Ernie Kent are gone. Andy Enfield can recruit. Can he coach? No. So, UCLA has the better coach, is at home, but Southern Cal has more talent. This is the one that I circled on the calendar before the season.
In his weekly press conference, Coach Cronin did not focus much on Southern Cal but summed up his key to the season as follows:
We’re 8-0 when we give up less than 70. . . . Real simple formula for that (success), give up 60 a game, we’ll make it.
Defense is the key.
In their three losses, Southern Cal has averaged exactly that, 60 points per game. Of course, in their last loss to Washington, they only scored 40.
So, this game will come down to whether UCLA can stop Southern Cal from scoring.
Southern Cal’s offense starts inside with Onyeka Okongwu. This will be a real challenge for Jalen Hill and Cody Riley. He has scored in double figures every game but one this year and has had games of 33 and 27, the later against Washington State.
The next worry is Jonah Mathews. His three-point shooting percentage is down a bit this year, but he is still deadly from three. Keep in mind the last two times he played UCLA he shot a total of 24 three-pointers! That is a crazy number, but this is a huge worry against Coach Cronin’s often weak three-point defense.
It seems like power forward/center Nick Rakocevic has been at Southern Cal for ever. The senior has been inconsistent against UCLA, having a starring 21-point game last year in beating the Bruins, but also getting in foul trouble other games. Since this game is at Pauley, I would not be surprised to see Rakocevic get in foul trouble. One thing about the senior is that he knows how to take what is given to him. If UCLA pays too much attention to Okongwu, he can torch the Bruins.
After these guys, the Trojans get more random. The other guards are Elijah Weaver and Ethan Anderson. They only average 11.2 points between them and 46 minutes per game. Anderson is weak from three. He only shoots 33% from long-range.
That said, Southern Cal has more talent. Take Isaiah Mobley off the bench. He is a former five-star recruit and was California’s top-ranked high school player last year. He is fourth on the team in scoring and would be more dominant if he had an actual coach.
So, can the Bruins stop Southern Cal inside without letting Mathews or someone else torch them from the outside? Will Southern Cal’s talent trump UCLA’s home court advantage and coaching?
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Go Bruins! Beat SC!