USC basketball: Nebraska pregame
Greetings and salutations!
Coming to you from the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Neb., where USC (4-2) will face Nebraska (3-2) in its first true road game this season -- the Trojans finished with a 2-9 road record last season -- as part of the soon-to-be-discontinued Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
Hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I spent mine in chilly Omaha with a friend from college and her family. And I had a wonderful time.
The delicious, home-cooked meal they served, which provided more than enough sustenance to help me survive Los Angeles' harsh winters (ba-dum-ching), included turkey, collared greens, yams, cornbread, macaroni, baked beans, dirty rice, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, ice cream, wine, eggnog and coffee.
My favorite Thanksgiving side dish, and one I think is vastly underrated, is yams. (And, apparently, sweet potatoes are big news these days, too.) For dessert, pumpkin pie is the only way to go. Period.
But I, with my still-plump belly, digress...
Here are some facts and stats to get you ready before the 3 p.m. PST tipoff (television broadcast on FS West; radio broadcast on 830):
Points per game/opponents points per game
Nebraska probable starters
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG
G 3 Brandon Richardson 6-0 190 Jr. Los Angeles 3.4 2.6
G 34 Lance Jeter 6-3 225 Sr. Beaver Falls, Penn. 10.2 3.2
F 00 Toney McCray 6-6 210 Jr. Missouri City, Texas 5.6 3.4
F 13 Brandon Ubel 6-10 240 So. Overland Park, Kan. 7.4 4.2
F 21 Jorge Brian Diaz 6-11 245 So.* Caguas, Puerto Rico 8.4 4.0
USC probable starters
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG
G 10 Maurice Jones 5-7 155 Fr. Saginaw, Mich. 13.8 3.5
G 15 Bryce Jones 6-5 200 Fr. Los Angeles 13.8 3.3
G 43 Marcus Simmons 6-6 220 Sr. Alexandria, La. 7.2 5.0
F 1 Alex Stepheson 6-10 250 Sr.* Los Angeles 6.3 7.0
F 5 Nikola Vucevic 6-10 260 Jr. Bar, Montenegro 17.8 11.3
* utilized redshirt season
USC player to watch: freshman guard Bryce Jones
As I wrote in today's editions of The Times, Jones is the Trojans' biggest surprise so far this young season.
His most impressive games have come outside of Los Angeles, when he had 13 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals against Bradley at the MassMutual Center Springfield, Mass., as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament, and then the next day in the same arena scored 21 points in 24 minutes against New Mexico State.
Jones is still learning, sure, but he has silky-smooth athleticism and surprisingly mature defensive instincts. He's also a pretty sharp three-point shooter (42%) and a good passer (2.3 assists a game).
Since the Trojans are so young, with three freshmen playing big-time minutes, they do need a veteran guard who's always on-call for quick buckets.
But since no such veteran guard exists, Jones is the guy, and he's not doing so bad either, averaging 13.8 points a game. Will his strong play on foreign courts continue?
Nebraska player to watch: sophomore forward Christian Standhardinger
For a team that lost its leading scorer from a team that finished last in league play last season, it's a tad strange that the Cornhuskers' leading scorer this season (11 points a game) is a player who doesn't start and doesn't play much either (17 minutes a game).
But perhaps that speaks to why Standhardinger, a Germany-native who averages 5.6 rebounds a game, is a valuable player -- and to the fact that Nebraska Coach Doc Sadler really doesn't have any star players, either, as evidenced by the fact that Nebraska has 11 players averaging more than 10 minutes a game. The Lincoln Journal Star's Brian Rosenthal expounds a bit more on this subject here.
Key to the game: inside play
With Stepheson and Vucevic, USC will have an inside advantage against nearly every team it plays this season. But Nebraska is different, featuring an equally imposing frontline of Ubel, Diaz, plus a couple other similar-sized reserves off the bench, such as 6-foot-11 center Andre Almeida.
The Omaha World-Herald's Rob White wrote about the challenge Vucevic and Stepheson will offer the 'Huskers.
If USC can win the rebounding battle, which it has done in five of six games this season, and if its two big men can stay out of foul trouble, the Trojans should be able control this game.
That won't be easy since Stepheson, who was the Trojans' best player (13 points, 12 rebounds) when these teams faced last season, is still playing with a fractured left hand.
Stepheson wore a slimmer cast in USC's win on Wednesday against Cal State Fullerton, and played his best game since breaking that hand in the Trojans' season opener against UC Irvine, recording 12 points, 11 rebounds and a blocked shot in 29 minutes.
--USC lost at home to Nebraska last season, 51-48, when Cornhuskers guard Eshaunte Jones, who made only one shot in the second half, hit a game-winning three-point jumper from the corner with 11.7 seconds left. It was a tight game throughout, with eight ties and 20 lead changes. Jones, a sophomore guard, is averaging 2.3 points for the Cornhuskers this season.
--Vucevic leads USC in scoring (17.8), and the Pacific 10 Conference in rebounding (11.3) and double-doubles (four). But he has also recorded five assists in each of USC's last three games as he has moved outside the paint to become the focal point of the team's offensive attack against zone defenses.
--Maurice Jones has played 236 out of a possible 240 minutes for USC this season, and the freshman point guard pulled a muscle in his back on Tuesday that caused some soreness but didn't seem to limit him this week. I'm interested to see how he'll hold up today when he plays 40 minutes again.
-- Baxter Holmes in Lincoln, Neb.
Photo: USC forward Nikola Vucevic is fouled by Cal State Fullerton forward Jer'Vaughn Johnson in the second half of Wednesday's game. Credit: Chris Carlson / Associated Press