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Up Next Arizona

OK, so with UCLA behind us, the Trojans host Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats tomorrow night at the Galen center.

This Arizona program was once the one of the powerhouses of the Pac 10 and while they still have some talent its just not what it used to be. Looks like the biggest issue is the Arizona bench which has only scored 14 points in its 3 losses.

This is the first time in 22 years that Olson finds himself with an uncultivated bench. It is inevitably a situation that will keep the Wildcats from winning the Pac-10 and, similarly, shorten their stay in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, there is always the chance Nic Wise will begin to play like Jason Terry. Wise's stats: a .273 shooting percentage and a 2.8 scoring average.

Here is the significance of a good bench: Olson's four Arizona Final Four teams all had four subs who averaged at least 10 minutes a game.

Now as you know I am no basketball expert but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that talent on the bench is the key to winning games and ultimately championships. "Fresh legs and fresh minds" keep the other guy on his heels as you execute your game plan and with the athleticism of today's players it is not uncommon to see a quick tempo that will wear out starters when they don't have effective reserve players to step in and take up the slack.

Here is a great example:

Sophomore guard Daniel Dillon is Arizona's lone substitute to average 10 minutes per game, but although his defensive energy is useful, he is shooting .421 from the foul line and .385 overall.

...When Arizona visits USC and UCLA this weekend, it will discover that UCLA's sixth man, Michael Roll has played exactly 100 more minutes than the UA's Dillon. It will also find that USC has 11 players averaging 10 minutes or more.

This is not a position that Olson is used to being in.

But lets not count the `cats out yet, like I said they have some talent and three of their players are in the top 10 in minutes in the Pac 10; Mustafa Shakur 35.31, 2nd, Ivan Radenovic with 33.69, 5th and Chase Budinger with 33.25, 6th. That's a lot of playing time especially with a depleted bench. Olson claims, "If you substitute too much, guys really lose the rhythm of the game." Maybe, maybe not but it is clear that he has to try and make up for that thin bench by keeping his strong players out there. Arizona does have freshman Guard Nic Wise back in the line-up after missing two games, for reasons undisclosed, against the Oregon schools but it is unclear as to how much playing time he will see.

SC has had some good luck against the Wildcats in L.A..

Among the USC highlights from the last 10 meetings at the Sports Arena, of which the Trojans won six, including a 77-70 triumph last season:

In 1997, the sixth-ranked Wildcats fell, 75-62, in a game pitting then-USC coach Henry Bibby against his son Mike, a freshman at Arizona.

In 1998, Adam Spanich's off-balance three-point shot at the overtime buzzer lifted the Trojans to a 91-90 victory over the second-ranked Wildcats, ending their nation-long 19-game winning streak.

In 2004, Farmer scored a career-high 40 points to lead the Trojans to a 99-90 victory over seventh-ranked Arizona.

The Trojans, 13-5 overall and 3-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference, hope to keep the string of upsets going Thursday against No. 11 Arizona (13-3, 4-2) in the first meeting between the teams at the Galen Center.

With USC's recent success, except for Saturdays loss to UCLA. SC needs to keep focused and put Saturday behind them and not fall for the inevitable letdown that some would expect after a tough loss. Simply put, they need to get back on the horse and ride.

You think this game isn't important? Then this is all you need to know.

While a USC victory could move the Trojans as high as a tie for first in the conference, a defeat could drop them as low as seventh. A triumph by the Trojans would also be their fourth over a ranked team this season, the most since they defeated six ranked teams during the 2001-02 season.

"If we can keep continuing to beat ranked teams and keep playing well," sophomore forward Keith Wilkinson said, "not only does it stamp our place in the Pac-10 but in the [NCAA] tournament, which is the ultimate goal."

Those stakes are pretty high so I'd say it's pretty important!