USC (8-13, 3-5)
Tipoff: 7 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Networks, AM 570
At a glance: USC has looked competitive but not outstanding in four games under interim head coach Bob Cantu. The Trojans were decimated at Arizona, a team likely steaming after losing to UCLA, but forced overtime against ASU and fell by two points against Oregon.
USC is an unexceptional defensive team that utilizes its size and length to block shots. The Trojans are averaging 5.8 blocks per game in conference play, behind only Arizona State’s 6.4. Their offense, putrid through much of the winter, has ticked up lately: 65.3 points per game on the season ranks 11th in the conference, but exclude the nonconference schedule and that number moves up to 69.6 (fourth). In Pac-12 play, UCLA is only slightly ahead at 70.9.
On a roster not filled with shooters — only two players make more than 70.5 percent of their free throws — 6-foot-6 forward Eric Wise has been the team’s most consistent contributor. The senior is averaging 12.5 points after transferring from UC Irvine, and is also USC’s second-leading rebounder.
What could really sink the Trojans is ball security. In conference play, the Trojans turn over 19.5 percent of their possessions. UCLA leads the Pac-12 at 15.8 percent.
Players to watch: After the performance 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski had against UCLA (22 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks), USC’s big men would seem to present the biggest threats. Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon are listed at 7-foot-2 and 7-feet, respectively, and combine 77 of the team’s 110 blocks.
“If we get in the paint, we have to shot fake, because they’re going to try to block our shots if they watched the last tape,” UCLA guard Jordan Adams said. “We gave up a lot of blocked shots. Just little ball fakes.”
Dedmon, however, may still be limited after suffering from the flu; if he isn’t able to contribute effectively, the Trojans’ chances at an upset drop dramatically. Any time he spends on the bench could allow Kyle Anderson to spend more effort defending Eric Wise.
Shabazz Muhammad (flu) and Travis Wear (concussion) are both expected to play. If Wear can regain his January form, he’ll present a tremendous matchup problem; besides Oraby and Dedmon — who likely aren’t quick enough to stick with Wear farther from the basket — no Trojan over 6-foot-7 averages over eight minutes per game.
USC STARTING LINEUP:
F – Dewayne Dedmon, 7-0, 255, Jr., 6.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg
F – Eric Wise, 6-6, 240, Sr., 12.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.6 apg
G – Byron Wesley, 6-5, 210, So., 10.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.1 apg
G – J.T. Terrell, 6-3, 185, Jr., 10.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.8 apg
G – Jio Fontan, 6-0, 175, Sr., 9.2 ppg, 1.5 reb, 4.7 apg