UPDATE: ucla drops against WSU 82-81
This season has suddenly taken on a certain nervousness and urgency as USC is currently on the wrong side of the tournament bubble after a couple of recent losses. But although that may be the case, the team certainly did not play that way last night. The slow deconstruction of Washington State seemed to play on through out the entirety of the game and the theme of of the game was simply grind grind grind. In fact th whole game was akin to discovering, once and for all, what would happen when an immovable object met another immovable object.
Basically I am trying to say that the game was kind of slow, and to a non fan I am sure it was more than a little bit boring. But regardless, there is something assuring in having a team that plays such great defense. When SC does build those leads of 10 points or more I am sure that they can seem almost insurmountable, and even when things are tight and the offense isn't clicking the big D can keep things within reach. And so it goes with last night, even though the Cougars managed to pull within 1 point near the seven minute mark the Trojans simply put the clamps on and opened things up again.
More after the jump...
The key positive to take from this game is the use of the bench. All in all three players saw significant minutes off the bench, and while none were jaw droppingly spectacular, their combined minutes served a much greater purpose. Marcus Simmons came off and played tough defense, Leonard Washington showed the same old nastiness under the hoop (despite it showing only 1 board in the box score), and Keith Wilkinson provided the steady play that he is basically relied upon for at this point. All in all that group combined to provide 24 minutes which allowed the starters to be fresh to finish strong down the stretch against a Tony Bennett squad that used frequent substitutions all game long.
Speaking of the bench, Nikola Vucevic started the game and had eight points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes of play. Very impressive for a true freshman who was originally supposed to red shirt before the season began. In addition to his size and inside game, Kid Euro has a really nice stroke and he has the potential to be a very dangerous weapon for Tim Floyd in the future. Let's also here it for timely three pointers, and although the team only took three attempts during the whole game both Lewis and Hackett connected from beyond the arc at moments when the players needed a boost and to re open up a lead. Finally, the last shout out goes to Taj Gibson who drew incredible defensesive pressure after scoring easily early in the game. It won't show up in the box score, but his presence inside really helped to open things up on the offensive end.
Now SC faces another must win game, and if they can pull it out against Washington then things are going to look a lot rosier Sunday morning. Beating the Huskies gives USC another all important quality win and makes it so that the schedule, which closes with a home series against the Oregon Schools, is very manageable as conference play winds down. In the first meeting the free throw differential played a big role in determining the winner, and despite the fact that USC outscored UW in the paint somehow Romar and Co enjoyed a huge advantage at the charity stripe even before the team began purposefully fouling down the stretch. It is likely that they won't enjoy the same advantage this time around, and SC meeds to capitalize on the excellent play at the Galen Center (14-1 at home) and come out with a win.