Understandably, this has been a rather slow week in the world of USC basketball with all the news involving the football program and its new head coach - Lane Kiffin. But nevertheless, today presents an exciting opportunity for Kevin O'Neill and the ‘SC hoops team, as they travel across town to Westwood to face archrival UCLA for the first time this season.
Despite past history in which this game often determined the Pac-10 champion or helped secure a birth in the NCAA tournament, the 2010 edition of the rivalry is not expected to do either for either program. UCLA is in the midst of its worst season in recent memory at 7-9 overall, and the Trojans, despite a solid 10-6 mark, are ineligible for postseason play due to self-imposed NCAA sanctions.
But that doesn't mean this game is a wash for either school, particularly for our very own Trojans. For one, ‘SC holds just a 100-126 overall record against the Bruins so a win in Westwood doesn't necessarily occur every year. That alone should be motivation for this bunch to return to campus with a victory in hand.
But if you need more incentive to tune into today's contest, then just remember that this team has the potential to do something it has not done in 25 years - win a regular season Pac-10 championship outright. No, they can't play in any postseason tournament, but the opportunity for this group to accomplish something that hasn't been done since the mid-80, is something that really shouldn't be taken lightly. But if that is to happen, it is a realistic possibility, several changes need to occur against UCLA and over the remaining fourteen games of the season.
Primarily, the Trojans, who are on a two-game losing streak, need point guard Mike Gerrity to step up and play the way he did against Tennessee and in the Diamond Head Classic if they are going to earn their first road victory of the season. During his first six games with the team, Gerrity led the Trojans to six victories, while averaging 12.5 points per game. But in the two games following at Stanford and at Cal, Gerrity struggled immensely.
Against the Cardinal, he totaled just 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting and 3 assists. Against the Bears, he was even worse, scoring 4 points on 25% shooting and recording no assists. It was a long way away from his 12 point-10 assist performance in his first game against Tennessee. Provided he can return to form, not necessarily a guarantee, the Trojans should have the upper hand in today's matchup with the Bruins.
While he is certainly an important one, Gerrity isn't the only variable in today's game. Other things must happen as well if the Trojans are going to defeat the Bruins in Westwood. For one, Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic need to remain out of foul trouble. In the team's six losses this season, their two big men have often found themselves sitting on the bench for significant portions of the game due to foul problems. That cannot happen against UCLA.
Additionally, ‘SC needs Dwight Lewis's hot streak to continue. During the team's trip up to the Bay Area last weekend, Lewis had arguably his two best individual games of the season by scoring 22 and 20 points respectively. Playing an average of 38 points in both games, his scoring ability kept the Trojans in the game as the rest of the offense sputtered. They might not need Lewis to score 20+ points against the Bruins, but they will need his offensive efficiency (he shot 54.8% in both games) to continue.
In a way, it's a lot to ask for, but if these things can occur then there is no reason as to why the Trojans will not be able to take a victory away from the cross-town rivals.