As the UCLA Bruins (16-5, 6-2 Pac-12) get set to host the USC Trojans (8-13, 3-5 Pac-12) on the hardwood on Wednesday night, both squads will be looking to right the ship after losing the last time out.
UCLA heads back to Pauley Pavilion after splitting the Arizona road swing, opening the weekend with an exhilarating win in Tucson over then-No. 6 Arizona, but crumbling in an 18-point loss to ASU two days later.
Southern Cal takes the trip to Westwood after suffering consecutive defeats, the first in overtime in Tempe versus the Sun Devils, and the second in a 24-point thrashing against the Wildcats.
For the Bruins, the lopsided defeat to Arizona State was extremely deflating, effectively barring UCLA from reentering the Top 25 this week. From start to finish, the Devils were able to expose key deficiencies in the Bruins’ game, including a glaring lack of interior presence and paper-thin depth.
UCLA was without starting F/C Travis Wear, a 6’10”, 230-pound junior who was forced to sit versus ASU due to concussion-like symptoms. Travis’ twin brother David and highly touted freshman Tony Parker attempted to pick up the slack, but their performances left much to be desired, especially on defense.
The Sun Devils’ post-presence was unrelenting, as true center Jordan Bachynski (7’2”) proved unstoppable en route to a double-double night. Bachynski finished the game with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. The scoring and rebounding totals were both career highs for the junior from Calgary, further highlighting UCLA’s defensive shortcomings.
As the Bruins prepare to battle their hated crosstown rivals, they will need to make major progress in the paint. The Trojans are better than their record indicates, and you can bet they’ll be fired up to play at Pauley.
And considering USC has three seven-footers on its roster, the Bruins’ defense can ill-afford another night of soft interior play. T. Wear’s availability is unclear at this point, but UCLA will be in a tight spot if he has to ride the bench for another game.
With that said, here’s a look at three Trojans to watch as UCLA and USC face off for the first time in 2013.
F Eric Wise
USC has relied heavily on transfers this year, and none is more crucial than former UC-Irvine Anteater Eric Wise.
The 6’6”, 240-pound senior is the Trojans’ leading scorer this season, averaging 12.5 PPG on 50.8 percent field goal shooting. Factor in Wise’s 47.5 percent mark from behind the arc, and it’s clear that USC has a lethal scoring threat at the forward position.
Wise also contributes on the boards with 5.2 RPG, and he plays clean basketball, only committing 1.5 turnovers per contest (averaging 29.1 minutes per game). If the Bruins hope to stay alive in the Pac-12 title race, they will need to disrupt Wise and prevent him from getting open looks.
The one area that Wise has struggled with this season is discipline, as he has been prone to making mental errors in crunch time. Most memorable of those gaffs were two technical fouls in the second half of the Trojan’s two-point OT victory over Dayton.
If UCLA can frustrate Wise early, the Bruins have the chance to exploit his weaknesses and take him out of the game.
F Dewayne Dedmon
From USC’s stable of seven-footers, the obvious standout is 7’0”, 225-pound forward Dewayne Dedmon.
The junior from Lancaster, Calif. has shown progress across the board in his second year as a Trojan, improving his free-throw percentage, rebounding and block numbers considerably. He also leads the team in steals (1.0 per game).
Heading into the bout with the Bruins, Dedmon is averaging 6.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG and two blocks per contest. Given how horribly UCLA has been plastered in the paint this season, Dedmon’s value on Wednesday cannot be overstated.
Unless the Bruins can box out and prevent Dedmon from getting superior post position, the Trojans will dominate the glass and tally plenty of second-chance points.
G Jio Fontan
Coming back from an ACL injury that forced him to sit out the entire 2011 season, redshirt senior Jio Fontan has been electric for USC this year.
The 6’0”, 175-pound guard is the Trojans’ top facilitator, leading the team with 4.7 assists per game in 32.7 minutes of play per game. And while he is undoubtedly a pass-first point guard, Fontan manages a respectable 9.2 PPG to bolster his deadly dime delivery.
But for all the good Fontan has done this season, inconsistency and poor shooting have marred his play. Fontan is shooting a paltry 33.9 percent from the field, and he leads the team in turnovers with 3.0 per contest.
Forcing Fontan to settle for outside jumpers will be key, as well as pressuring him with solid on-ball defense. If UCLA can contain Fontan off the dribble and clog up the passing lanes, the Bruins will have a good chance to stifle the Trojans’ offense.