Greetings and salutations!
Coming to you from the Galen Center, where moments ago a florist's truck pulled alongside the arena with plenty of colorful bouquets for today's Senior Day ceremony. My forecast, for the ceremony at least: 100% chance of sobs from the parents of USC's four seniors -- Kasey Cunningham, Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis -- along with a 50% chance the players will get a little misty-eyed themselves.
Speaking of Senior Day, it can't be discounted how emotions will affect today's game between USC (16-11 overall, 8-7 in Pacific 10 Conference) and Oregon State (12-15, 6-9). Gerrity, Johnson and Lewis are key players for USC, combining to average 32.2 of USC's 59.5 points a game; and since the ceremony will be held before tip-off, there's a chance these guys could get all nostalgic, with their folks out there and whatnot, and lose sight of the game. That's the glass-is-half-empty version.
Glass-half-full version: The ceremony gives them extra juice since today's game is their last in the Galen.
But it's hard to gauge which way this could go, since emotions are always a wild card. They didn't affect me on Senior Day during my final year of high school: I handed my mom a rose, hugged my dad, then played my usual below-average game, riddled with poor shots and turnovers. (I blame it on the referees; they had it in for me from the start. I just know it.) But, somehow, despite my poor play, we won. Do you believe in miracles? Me too.
But I digress ...
Here are some facts and stats to get you ready before tip-off at 4:30 p.m. (televised on Prime Ticket, radio broadcast on 710):
USC player to watch: Dwight Lewis
Oregon State player to watch: Calvin Haynes
Haynes, a native of Reseda and standout at Woodland Hills Taft, is a junior guard who leads the Beavers in scoring (13.3), and has scored in double figures for nine straight games, averaging 16.8 over that span. Three times this season he has tied his career-high of 25 points, the most recent of those coming against USC. In that game, he shot seven of 15 from the floor, including nine of 15 from the free-throw line. He's an aggressive guard that likes to shoot and get in the lane. The last time these teams met, he capitalized off USC's turnovers for several easy buckets. If Oregon State forces turnovers today, expect him the ball to be in his hands.
Key to the game: Oregon State's 1-3-1 zone defense
The 1-3-1 is a real pain to play against, really. I used to play the back part of that defense way back when, and even though my high school team was mediocre at best (and terrible at worst), we gave every team trouble because it's a defense that can take away the middle while not allowing good looks from the outside.
But Oregon State plays it a little more aggressive, aiming to trap players once they cross the half-court line, either double-teaming them in the corners out front or along the baseline. In Corvallis, the Beavers did that all game, forcing USC into 19 turnovers, which proved fatal for the Trojans.
In the end, though, USC is simply terrible versus zone defenses;a 1-3-1 zone is the last thing the Trojans want to see. If they reach 50 points, I'll be surprised.
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: USC senior guard Dwight Lewis will lead three other classmates in their final home game this afternoon. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times