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Playing the Hot Hand

SC takes on ASU today in the Pac-10 tournament. It is important that SC play well in the tournament in order to keep the momentum going as they head into the NCCA tournament next week.

Beating ASU today will wash the bad taste out of their mouths after the debacle in Tempe two weeks ago when SC was called for 29 fouls. Now I am not one to give a lot credence to revenge factors but and I have a hard time believing that SC is looking ahead, but a win today will almost certainly have them playing ucla in the semi's.

SC has been on a bit of a hot streak and they want to put their best foot forward as they make their way to the dance. Even ASU fans want no part of the Trojans this time around.

Arizona State fans were nearly unanimous Saturday when asked who they'd rather play Thursday in the Pac-10 tournament -- a ranked Washington State team that had beaten the fifth-place Sun Devils twice or a USC team that had not after the way the Trojans were routed 80-66 in a foul-marred game in Tempe 10 days ago.

Washington State was the unanimous pick. No way the Arizona State fans wanted this matchup with a fourth-place USC team (20-10, 10-8 Pac-10) they'd split with -- not after that last game.

Not only does USC, with five wins in its past six, seem to be playing better than anybody else in the league right now, but with the game in LA the Trojans would seem to be plenty motivated to make up for the loss in which four Trojans fouled out and the Sun Devils (19-11, 9-9) had 39 free-throw attempts to just 11 for USC.

I think its clear that SC just wants to play some solid basketball and let all the speculation about this or that fall by the wayside. SC does have a chance to burst ASU's bubble in the hopes of making the tournament. So there is some motivation there as well. While SC has some ups and downs this season the aberration that was the ASU game on March 1st really got this team focused and they have played some great basketball against both Cal and Stanford.

This game like all the others will hinge on SC's ability to protect the ball. They need to limit turnovers and they need to take solid shots. I still wince at some of the bricks that I have seen thrown up this season so SC really needs to make every shot count. They also need to continue to play that great defense that we have seen all season.

Shutting down Harden is a must, he leads ASU averaging 17 points a game and in his last two games against SC he has shot the lights out scoring 26 and 24 points respectively so taking him out of his game is key. Harden can shoot the three and he is consistent from the line but he isn't the only one we need to worry about. Pendergraph can all also give SC fits if his game is on, he has been inconsistent this season but I wouldn't count him out. He is also ASU's best defender, as he is their only shot-blocking threat so you know he will look to make his presence known down low. Abbott is ASU's best 3-point shooter but he has been hot and cold all season, if SC gives him open looks he could light it up from the outside. ASU has a decent bench so they can put fresh legs on the floor to mix things up. SC also needs to hit the jumpers with ASU playing zone for most of the game. they will get some points on the inside but thy need to focus on the fundamentals of hitting their outside shots while also pressing the ball inside. It needs to be a balanced attack.

SC is positioned well for a strong run into the postseason.

Even though USC is widely considered a lock for the NCAA tournament, Floyd said it was important to succeed in the Pac-10 tournament.

"Because we want to advance, because we want to be playing well going into the NCAA tournament, because we want to be playing for seeding and on and on," Floyd said were the responses his players gave him when he asked what was at stake this week.

The Trojans would also like to erase the memory of an ugly 80-66 loss to Arizona State on March 1 in which they were called for a season-high 29 fouls to 14 for the host Sun Devils. Arizona State shot 39 free throws; USC shot 11.

"It's an opportunity to beat a team that beat us," said Trojans freshman guard O.J. Mayo, who scored a career-high 37 points in the last meeting.

"We want to survive the first night and see what happens the second night."

This will be a pretty good game if SC takes care of the ball and if they stay patient in making their shots. It will be interesting to see how they come out this afternoon.

Note: I will be on the road today heading down to DC to see some friends with the family so I probably won't be able to catch the game. I will have a game thread up for anyone who would like to comment, though with a 12pm PT start that will be tough. I will have a game write-up later on this evening.