Granted, while I may be prone to hyperboles, this current roadtrip in the desert holds the potential to spearhead a second-half turnaround for USC. Look at it this way: a win over the Wildcats gives the Trojans a 13-9 overall mark on the season and a 5-4 record in Pac-10 play. With quality wins over Tennessee, Texas, UCLA and potentially Arizona, it at least keeps the possibility for an at-large bid alive. Granted, 'SC would have to go 7-2 over the second half of conference, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities. They've been competitive in every single game in conference play thus far, and there's no reason not to hold this team accountable for not playing to their potential (see games against Cal, Oregon and Oregon State). Again, it's possible, however unlikely.
The Pac-10's is expected to get at least three NCAA Tournament bids this year, and the Trojans have an excellent chance on Saturday night in Tucson to position themselves for such an opportunity.
As for the actual game, though, any matchup against Arizona is always preceded by a multitude of media reports mentioning the fact that the Wildcats' top-three scorers were once USC commits under Tim Floyd: Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill and Lamont Jones. The other Noel Johnson, apparently missed out on the 'Zone party, and ended up at Clemson. The three at Arizona, however, are all rather good, particularly Williams, who averages 19.8 points per game and very well might end up as the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
But Kevin O'Neill, who spent one season as the Wildcats' head coach, has assembled a rather talented starting unit in his own right. In just over a year on the job, he kept Nikola Vucevic and constructed a backcourt of Maurice Jones and Jio Fontan that rivals most in the conference. The problem, as we've seen all year, is consistency with this group. This team, as a general rule, has struggled to put it all together, and that's putting it lightly. Last Saturday against Cal, Donte Smith finished with 24 points, but Vucevic had just 6, summing up a prototypical USC offensive effort. They're tough to beat when the entire seven-man rotation plays well, yes it's small and yes that's a rare occurence.
In today's LA Times, Baxter Holmes makes an interesting point regarding point guard Maurice Jones, who has seen his numbers dip since the arrival of Jio Fontan:
In other words, "Mo," as he's known, is USC's "MoJo," and as he goes, so goes USC.
Leading up to the Arizona State game, O'Neill pleaded with Jones nearly three times a day at practice, and met with him twice in his office. He asked if Jones wanted fewer minutes. Jones said no. He asked why he wasn't being more aggressive. Jones gave his answer, which is simple.
"In high school, I had to score, I had to make plays for us to win," Jones said earlier this week. "Here, I don't have to do as much, so I feel like if I don't have to do it, I just don't do it.
"[O'Neill] wants me to do more, so I just have to incorporate that into the flow of the game."
Jones finished with 14 points against the Sun Devils - one of his better games since Fontan has been eligible. 'SC becomes stagnant on offense far too, but thus far, when Jones gets to the basket off the dribble, they've been far more effective (see: Santa Clara game). Getting penetration would go a long way toward posting another W in the win column.
Today's game will be telvised on FSN Prime Ticket, so for those of you in LA, you'e in luck.