On a number of levels, this game is rather significant for 9-6 USC. Through fifteen games thus far, five with Jio Fontan in the lineup, the Trojans have positioned themselves into contention for an NCAA Tournament berth with marquee wins over Tennessee, Texas, and to some degree, Washington State. Lehigh was also a tournament team a year ago, and Northern Arizona is projected by many to win the Big Sky. Looking at its resume, 'SC has a shot to go dancing this March.
To do so, however, it'll need a record in conference play around 13-5, and with one loss to Washington already, it isn't afforded too many opportunities to lose at home, even against UCLA. The Bruins have postseason aspirations for themselves, but in recent years, the rivalry has tipped in favor of USC, with the Trojans winning the last three (two under Kevin O'Neill's watch). A win would not only extend the streak, but keep 'SC towards the top half of the conference, which is all the more important considering its NCAA Tournament hopes.
In terms of Xs and Os, however, today's contest will likely be decided heavily by the play in the interior, as Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times notes:
Most basketball coaches pray for one, just one, grade-A big man
But if a coach has two, as UCLA's Ben Howland has in Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson and USC's Kevin O'Neill has in Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, then consider that coach lucky because good big men are hard to find, harder to keep and even harder to stop.
The matchup is intriguing on production alone.
The four have 22 double-doubles this season; the rest of the Pac-10, entering Saturday, had just 36. They also make up four of the league's top nine rebounders (including the top three), four of its top 20 shot-blockers, and four of its top-25 scorers.
As coach of the Lakers, Pat Riley often told his team: "no rebounds, no rings." Similar sentiments could be echoed tonight. Whichever team is stronger inside should have a decisive advantage. It'll be interesting to watch.
The game will be televised on FSN and begins at 7:30 p.m. PST. This is your open thread.