After the 26-point demolition of Washington last Saturday night, I'm trying not to get too excited for this weekend's series against the Oregon schools for fear of being disappointed. The last two times USC posted big conference victories (at home against Arizona State and on the road against UCLA), the Trojans followed up their strong performances with frustrating defeats (at Stanford and at home against Washington State). If the Trojans, who are currently tied for second in the conference, are serious about winning the Pac-10 regular season title, they cannot afford a letdown against an 8-11 Oregon State team that is tied for last place in the Pac-10. From the Oregonian:
After the Trojans blew up puzzling Washington over the weekend, O'Neill was trying to expla in sometimes cold-shooting USC's 45-point second half and he told media, "When people press us, we score. In the halfcourt, we struggle.
"I wish every team would press us.''
Three days later, during the Pac-10 coaches teleconference call, O'Neill elaborated, noting that senior transfer point guard Mike Gerrity (3.8 assists per game), is a better "full-court'' point guard than he is a half-court point guard.
O'Neill also said that Gerrity is particularly adept at squeezing out of traps and finding the open man.
If it's true that USC will actually function better on offense if the other team is pressing and trapping, then the Beavers - already at a distinct disadvantage vs. the Trojans in terms of athleticism - are in a world of hurt Thursday night at Gill.
If you think about it, O'Neill's assessment makes a lot of sense. Against pressing teams in Tennessee, UNLV, and Washington, the Trojans defeated each of them soundly by double figures and Gerrity posted better than usual numbers. According to a Los Angeles Times article, in those three games, he averaged 13.3 points and 6.7 assists, while he averages 9.7 points and 3.8 assists on the season. The statistics make it quite evident that Gerrity excels in an up-tempo style of play, which is often spearheaded by the opposition's full-court press.
But despite the Trojans' success against full-court pressure, it doesn't appear as if Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson plans on making too many adjustments against them:
"no matter what they say, we're going to do what we always do.''
In other words, the Beavers, which utilize a 3-guard lineup in various pressing and trapping schemes, don't plan on tailoring their game plan toward the Trojans' strengths and weakness. Such a declaration should be music to the ears of O'Neill and the Trojans, who will likely be able to take advantage of several apparent mismatches. For one, 'SC has a major advantage inside with their big men - Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic - who are significantly bigger and more than talented than OSU's frontline. Working the ball inside early and often should enable the Trojans to maintain some consistency on the offensive end.
Additionally, the presence of Gerrity and Dwight Lewis in the backcourt will be another factor that should work toward 'SC's favor. As previously noted, Gerrity excels in high-pressure situations, while Lewis has been on a hot streak as of late by averaging 19.6 points in his past five games.
While on paper, the Trojans should be able to walk away with a victory rather easily, there are still lingering questions regarding the mental state of this bunch, especially after the self-imposed sanctions earlier this month. From the Times:
If the Trojans' psyche is damaged, it also didn't seem so in their 26-point win Saturday against Washington, a team picked to finish second in the Pacific 10 Conference that has arguably the league's top player, Quincy Pondexter.
"I think every team would want our psyche to be affected," O'Neill said. "That's kind of the way leagues go, like I don't want any other team in the league to win except us. . . . Now, when [Pac-10 teams] go outside our conference, I always want us to win."
Asked why his players seem to have been unaffected, O'Neill simply said, "We have character guys."
While I know O'Neill has incessantly stated that the sanctions have no bearing on the team's performance, it's tough to believe they don't have some affect on 'SC. After all, the Trojans have posted a sub-500 record since that fateful January 3rd morning. But, there are many out there believe that the Washington game could be the turning point in the season, in which this bunch is finally ready to move. I'm not sure if I'm willing to go that far, but a road sweep against the Oregon schools would most definitely be a step in the right direction.
The tip off tonight is scheduled for 5:30 pm PST, but unfortunately, it will not be televised locally in Los Angeles. If you live in Oregon or Washington, you'll be in luck, as the game is scheduled to be televised on FSN Northwest. But for the majority of us here in Southern California, it appears as if we're going to be out of luck, unless an online link shows up somehwere. Nevertheless, we will still be launching the game thread about an hour before the contest and hope to see many of you there.