Turnovers: Did you know that Daniel Hackett leads the conference in assists at six per game and is tied for first in steals at 2.1 per game? Did you also know that he leads the conference by nearly a full turnover per game over the next nearest player by giving the ball up 4.1 times per contest? Combine this with the fact that many of USC's other players, including most of the bench, are noted turnover artists and it is easy to see why the Trojans lead the Pac 10 in turnovers. Unfortunately, on the flip side of the coin ucla leads the conference in steals. If Ben Howland turns up the pressure and SC can't take care of the ball, it could be a very long night.
Perimeter Defense: One of USC's strong points is their defense, but their most glaring weakness is that they are only average at defending outside shooting. This is a mjor problem against ucla, who features a number of quality three point shooters. Darren Collison and Michael Roll are both hitting over 50% from beyond the arc, and although Josh Shipp had been somewhat cold from the outside to begin the season he is coming off of an excellent game against Oregon where he hit on 5 of 6 on three point attempts. A couple of ucla's bigs have also shown that they can contribute from the outside as well; Nikola Dragovic and James Keefe are a combined 17 of 61 (28%) from long range.
more after the jump...
Offensive Rebounding: Both teams are known for their defense and open looks are likely going to be difficult to come by, making second chance opportunities that much more important. Luckily Taj Gibson is one of the best offensive rebounders in conference and should be able to excel with the bruins' lack of a truly dominant big. Agressive rebounding also tends to lead into more fouls and more free throw attempts, playing into another important aspect of this game.
Free Throws: Its pretty simple, the Trojans need to attack the basket early and often. Its important that Hackett, Derozan, and Lewis be aggressive and not settle for the outside shot as much of ucla's defensive game plan hinges on Alfred Aboya's presence in the middle, and drawing fouls on the senior big man will really open things up for Taj to have a big game. More importantly though is that the bruins are not particularly adept at getting to the line, so a big difference in free throws could mean the difference between whether USC wins or loses.
Fight on and beat the bruins!
*Statistics used from si.cnn.com and kenpom.com