To get some inside information on the USC men’s basketball team, Daily Bruin Sports reached out to the Daily Trojan – USC’s student news publication – and asked its men’s basketball beat writer Keith Demolder a few questions about the Trojans before their upcoming game against the Bruins on Saturday.
Daily Bruin: The buzz around UCLA for this matchup obviously isn’t what is was last year when the Bruins had one of the best teams in the country, but it is still very much present. What is the vibe around the USC campus as we get closer to tipoff?
Daily Trojan: It’s funny because we have, in my opinion, one of the most stacked teams, but (guard) De’Anthony Melton isn’t playing. Right now on campus there’s not as much buzz as there was last year. We started the year ranked 10th and then there was a huge drop off obviously, we had the whole scandal happen, we had Melton being suspended for the year, and then we also dropped a couple of bad games. One at Princeton, SMU as well, a couple in the Pac-12, but not that many. So people really haven’t been going to games as much and there hasn’t been as much hype around the team because we have a couple of losses on our schedule.
The hype has kind of died around campus because there has been so much external things surrounding the program, that people just don’t want to go. There is still hype for the diehard fans and stuff. We’re on a six-game winning streak and you can kind of feel it coming back, but I think if we beat UCLA then people will start to notice again.
DB: Both of these teams have had a lot of roster turnover in the last year due to a multitude of reasons, but are there any matchups that you are going to be keeping a close eye on?
DT: I’m looking to see how (forward Chimezie Metu) handles (senior center) Thomas Welsh. Firstly, I don’t think we’re going to have (forward) Bennie Boatwright for this game. He’s missed a couple of games, he’s got this wart on his toe. It’s kept him out, which sounds kind of funny, but I guess it’s been giving him enough pain to actually sit out games. So likely we’re going to roll with Nick Rakocevic … and then (Metu), our two forwards.
So I’m looking to see how we’re able to contain (Welsh) because this season, we’ve seen him take a couple 3s and he’s been able to hit some, which I don’t remember, at least last year, him doing at all. He just seemed like kind of the post player, a guy to hit that; it was always that baseline 15-footer. It was always just automatic for him. And last year, if I’m not mistaken, I remember he, in the second game of the year when we played at your guys’ place, you guys just totally crushed us.
I remember he was, I think six-for-six to start out the game; he was just hitting everything. … I’m looking to see how we’re able to play against (Welsh). If he actually does go outside can we defend the 3 because that’s been a problem for us this year, having the zone defense that’s been giving up a lot of 3s? I think if we’re able to contain (Welsh), especially on the offensive glass, that’ll be something I’m looking forward to. The big men I think will be a big factor for us.
DB: UCLA has one of the top-ranked offenses in the Pac-12. How has USC gone about preparing for the Bruins and do you think they’ll have success in slowing them down?
DT: It’s funny because we have a lot of really good defenders that can get steals and cut off passing lanes, but at least what head coach Andy Enfield has been saying is that it’s just about effort. When there is a defensive breakdown, make sure to come over and help out your guy because earlier we weren’t doing that.
There wasn’t as much communication and guys were blowing assignments. I guess the key is to just to give 100 percent effort because you guys have a lot of really fast players, you roll with a smaller lineup than we do, so a key is for guys to be able to help out.
Another thing too has been fouling. Make sure to keep your hands up because we’ve had a lot of issues with fouling this year. I think against Cal State Fullerton, they had 25 personals and a lot of guys fouling out. So, especially for (Rakocevic), the key is to play good defense, but make sure to keep those fouls to a minimum.
DB: One of the biggest reasons that the Bruins still have a top-rated offense has been junior guard Aaron Holiday. What have the coaches and players at USC been saying about Holiday and how do you think they’ll be able to contain him?
DT: It’s so crazy because there’s been a lot of questions on who’s actually going to start, because usually it’s been (guard) Jonah Matthews throughout the season and (he) has played off the bench. He’s a little bit small, like 6 feet 3 inches tall, and then we have (guard) Shaqquan Aaron who’s been actually getting the starts.
So, (Enfield) didn’t want to tip his hand defensively per say, but what he was trying to say was they roll with (Aaron) because of guys like (Holiday). (Aaron) has longer arms, he’s able to block shots and he just gives more effort defensively. (Enfield) also says he’s seen better improvement from (guard) Elijah Stewart. The main key was just playing front, not letting anyone get behind you, and mainly just effort. And I think (Enfield) has seen a lot more effort from (Aaron) this season, and he says any of his guys can play, it’s just about whether they want to or not.
DB: USC will be visiting Pauley Pavilion for this matchup. Do you think the Trojans will embrace being the bad guys, or will they simply be focused on the task at hand?
DT: I think right now what was interesting is what (guard) Jordan Usher told me last time I talked to him. He said how this whole season has been a lot of adversity, and especially since they’ve gone on the (winning) streak, they’ve felt like they’ve really turned a corner. And they feel like they are in a good place right now, they’re winning games, six in a row. So they feel like they’ve had a bad hand, they feel like now, (UCLA) is a team they can beat, and they’ve had a lot of injuries. They think their potential is way higher than what they’ve done and so they see this UCLA game as kind of a win. Like they are going to win and there is no question about it that they are one of the best teams in the Pac-12.
DB: Do you have a score prediction?
DT: I think it’s going to be high scoring for sure. Especially the way (UCLA) plays its offense. I think it’s going to be in the 80s, obviously it depends on how well either of the teams shoot. This season, USC has not been a very good 3-point defensive team. Plenty of times, guys have hit shots on us and as of late we’ve been able to hit, but there are times where we will shoot maybe 30 percent from outside. So it really depends on how our shooting goes. Not having Boatwright is going to be huge for us because he is able to hit it from outside too. So I see it being maybe like a 80-77, 80-75 game; USC with the win.