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More Than Just a Rivalry Game

This time we need to stop Afflalo
Photo: Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer, DN
When USC takes the floor at Pauley Pavilion tonight the game will be more than just a cross-town rivalry, there is a lot on the line for both teams. UCLA is heading to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and to some USC is just a minor bump in the road. To USC on the other hand this game is about making a statement, not just about beating UCLA. Winning almost certainly gets SC a pretty decent seed in the tournament, some think we will be a #3 seed, but location is also a big deal. More important a win against UCLA shows that we can win the big game on the road and that is how you measure a team.

UCLA did it to us last month, as they should have for being as good a team as they are, but now SC needs to step up and give it right back. As you know I'm no expert in the intricacies of the sport and I have had to learn as I go about some of the nuances of this game but I am amazed at all the crap that people say about Tim Floyd. He has taken a team that really had no direction and he has found a way to bring them together and they have been successful. It is because of his hard work that this game actually means something and because of it the national media, like it or not, is taking notice.

A buddy of mine who is a surgeon I work with and a UCLA alum, read a few of my posts over the past couple of days and made a comment that I never really thought about. He said that UCLA expects to win ALL of its games because of their place on the national stage when it comes to hoops. While on the other hand, USC with its new-found success is in essence playing with house money because no one gives them chance. But, he also said that if USC continues to perform at that this level in the years to come it will no longer be a novelty and with the high expectations that SC has in football he said to expect the fan base to place those same high expectations on the basketball program. I thought that was a fair and honest assessment from a guy from the other camp, a guy who is very knowledgeable about his program but also even-tempered in his support of it, if you get my drift.

The players also know what's at stake and they will play their hearts out they also know it is more than just playing for pride, that the stakes are high.

For once, USC is not playing solely for pride and bragging rights when it travels to Pauley Pavilion tonight to face rival UCLA.

If the No. 19 Trojans can defeat the No. 2 Bruins, USC will tie UCLA for first place in the Pacific-10 Conference.

Former USC player and coach Bob Boyd, the program's resident historian with 56 years following the team, said he doesn't remember a USC-UCLA game this big since 1971.

During that season, a Paul Westphal-led Trojans team coached by Boyd had a chance to tie the Bruins for first place in the final game of the regular season but lost 73-62.

That game had even more drama than this one. USC had been ranked No. 1 in the nation for half the season before losing to UCLA in the first game. The Bruins took over the No. 1 spot in the polls, but the Trojans had climbed back to No. 2 by the second contest.

Back in those days, only the winner of the Pac-10 made the NCAA Tournament. So, even though USC was one of the top two teams in the nation much of the season, only UCLA went to the tournament. USC ended up 24-2, with both losses to UCLA, and did not advance.

I would agree that there isn't as much on the line for this game but it is still a big deal and SC knows it. So we'll see how it goes, I won't attempt to break down the particulars of the game but I will be very interested in how both teams come out of the gates. UCLA's defense will be a bit of a problem for USC and SC's defense needs to step up and contain the Bruins if they are to have a shot at winning.

UCLA's 6-foot-5 guard Arron Afflalo likes playing defense when he's so close to his man that Afflalo can identify his shampoo.

USC's 6-foot-9 center Taj Gibson has long arms, lively legs and a mind that quickly figures out the trajectory of a basketball and the best split second to knock that ball away from the basket.

Both take defense as their first and most important assignment. Their defensive ferocity figures to be important tonight at Pauley Pavilion when No. 2-ranked and Pac-10 leading UCLA (20-2, 9-2) plays No. 19 USC (18-6, 8-3).

But wait. Pacific 10 Conference teams aren't defensively tough. That's what they believe most places east of Pullman, Wash.

Yeah Right! We'll see how it goes tonight!