USC basketball: Oregon pregame
Coming to you from McArthur Court in Eugene, Ore., where some Oregon students thought it would be funny to fill my Times' press row seat with about 40 yellow "Duckeroni" foam sticks and pom-poms.
But that's what makes McArthur Court, which closes after this season, special: the students, specifically the rowdy and ruckus group known as "Pit Crew" that's never too kind to visitors (even visiting members of the press, it seems).
Right now, I can spot these signs in the Crew: "Good luck in the Postseason!", "$C vs. NCAA - Fight On!" and two tombstone-shaped signs that also represent USC's postseason, in which USC can't play this year because the university imposed sanctions regarding allegations of scandal surrounding former Trojan O.J. Mayo.
(Regarding those allegations, this Oregonian community blogger is rooting for the Crew to chant this phrase: "Loss of ... clap clap clap clap clap ... institutional control.")
Against UCLA, Oregon Coach Ernie Kent let Crew members into the Ducks' locker room before the game, hoping it would lift the team's spirits. Seemed to work; the Ducks beat UCLA, 71-66, in overtime. He said it's a tradition that will continue "from here on out" after the game. We'll see if it works.
But I digress. . . .
Here are some facts and stats to hold you over until tip-off at 3 p.m. radio broadcast on AM-710 between USC (12-8 overall, 4-4 in Pacific 10 Conference play) and Oregon (11-9, 3-5):
USC player to watch: forward Nikola Vucevic
The Ducks are likely to play a 2-3 zone defense instead of their traditional man, a maneuver they introduced against UCLA on Thursday. That said, Vucevic might be able to step outside and knock down some shots like he did in the first half against Oregon State, going five of six for 12 points. If he can do that, he might be able to stretch the zone and open up the middle for forward Alex Stepheson. However, it's worth noting that Vucevic went quiet in the second half against the Beavers, attempting just one shot.
Oregon player to watch: guard Tajuan Porter
He's short (5-foot-6), but quick off the dribble with a quick release on his shot. And if USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said a key for USC will be to slow Oregon's transition offense, then slowing Porter is crucial. He's the Pacific 10 Conference's active leading scoring leader with 1,638 points and ranks first in Oregon history with 321 career three-pointers.
Key to the game: Oregon's 2-3 zone defense
O'Neill will be the first to tell you that his team isn't very good in the half court because the Trojans are lacking "dribble-pass-shoot" guys. (Aren't those all key factors to being a basketball player? Just wondering out loud. . . . ) But with Oregon likely to play a 2-3 zone defense today, the Trojans could spend a lot of time rotating the ball on the perimeter looking for shots, as opposed to working the ball inside to Vucevic and Stepheson.
Even more interesting will be Oregon's pressing defense. O'Neill said he expects a 2-2-1 press defense that will extend about three quarters of the court. If the Ducks start trapping the Trojans and forcing turnovers, we could see a repeat of Thursday's turnover-fest against Oregon State.
-- USC is 1-5 in true road games, with its only win coming in Los Angeles at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. But the Trojans have won four straight at "The Pit" and six of seven overall against the Ducks.
-- The Trojans rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense (allowing only 55.5 points a game)
-- Greg Ballard, a former All-American and key member of Oregon's "Kamikaze Kids" in the 1970s, will have his jersey retired before the game today and will serve as an honorary captain for Oregon. Ballard ranks fourth all-time in Oregon history in scoring (1,829 points) and is the only UO player to have more than 1,000 rebounds (1,113 for a 9.7 per game average).
-- Baxter Holmes, reporting from Eugene, Ore.