A pair of Pac-10 favorites tip off Sunday night in a crosstown clash. This is each team’s only conference game of the week, and USC (10-4, 1-1) is unbeaten at home this season (8-0) and actually features the better rebounding and defensive team in this contests despite UCLA’s usual strength in those areas. #7 UCLA (12-2, 2-0) leads the Pac-10 in scoring margin (+19) through all games and swept the two bottom Pac-10 teams on the road last weekend, but this should be another lower-scoring defensive battle.
Like his coaching counterpart, USC’s Tim Floyd is outstanding at devising special defenses to stymie opponents, and Floyd has done fabulous work in his fourth year in LA. Last season his Trojans held a more talented and skilled UCLA team to 33% shooting in two contests and under 40% in all three meetings. The Trojans are last in 3-point shooting and made FG beyond the arch, but junior guards Daniel Hackett and leading scorer Dwight Lewis have both elevated their play this season. USC will be the aggressor on the interior where one of the league’s top big men Taj Gibson patrols the paint. Gibson is 3rd in rebounds in the Pac-10 while also scoring over 15ppg and shooting nearly 60%. Along with freshman forward DeMar DeRozan the Trojans feature a top-tandem inside to bang on the Bruins. USC lost the last two meetings to their rival 57-54 in the Pac-10 conference tournament and 56-46 on this court last season, and this looks like another tight tussle.
This contest will feature the league’s top-2 assist leaders with point guards Daniel Hackett of USC and Darren Collison of UCLA. Collison has made 40-straight free throws and missed just one all season. Freshman guard Jrue Holiday is the next Bruins star and benefits from Collison’s creativity. But the Bruins lack of a dominant post player and being a little undersized up front could be an issue against USC’s Gibson and DeRozen. The Trojans will be without another top freshman in forward Leonard Washington, who is second in rebounding but is still bothered by an ankle injury. USC struggled with Oregon State’s zone defense last game, but UCLA plays mostly aggressive man-to-man. Interesting to see if coach Howland changes up a bit on the defensive end, but USC has the personnel and strong motivation to pull the small upset against the league champs.
Winner: USC Margin 2-5 points