USC basketball: Texas pregame
Greetings and salutations!
Coming to you from the Galen Center, where there'll be a showdown tonight (sans mustaches and shootout) on old Jim Sterkel Court (technically, it's not that "old," having opened in 2006) between USC (4-4) and those No. 19 Texas Longhorns (6-1).
This game will close out a home-and-home deal for these foes that was part of the soon-to-be-discontinued Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
You figure USC is a mite tired of this four-season series, which ends for them as soon as this game does, seeing as how its 1-4 versus those Big 12 Conference fellas, the only win on Nov. 29, 2007 against Oklahoma.
The Longhorns, who sent three players to the NBA in June, trampled the Trojans by 19 in Austin last season, and are favored by about six points.
But since USC Coach Kevin O'Neill says this season's Longhorns feature three more likely NBA draftees, well, you figure Texas, which is playing its first true road game of the season, may lick USC by plenty more. After all, Texas is winning games by an average of 17.7 points this season.
Of course, no Texas win against USC will ever sting Trojans fans -- or provide as much excitement -- as the 2006 Rose Bowl, which anyone with half an objective mind would declare as one of college football's greatest games in history.
I won't link to any highlights of said epic game for fear that a still-sore USC fan will find me on press row and pick a fight, especially now that the Trojans' season is officially kaput with Saturday night's 28-14 win against UCLA, making this perhaps the first season in USC's illustrious football history that the Tulsa Golden Hurricane is bowling and the Trojans are not.
But I digress...
Here are some facts and stats to get you ready before tipoff at 7:30 p.m. (television broadcast on FSN; radio broadcast on 710):
Points per game/opponents points per game
Texas probable starters
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG
G 3 Jordan Hamilton 6-7 220 So. Compton, Calif. 21.7 7.0
G 4 Dogus Balbay 6-1 175 Sr. Istanbul, Turkey 6.0 3.7
G 5 Cory Joseph 6-3 185 Fr. Toronto, Ontario, CN 9.1 4.3
F 1 Gary Johnson 6-6 238 Sr. Houston, Texas 11.4 7.3
F 13 Tristan Thompson 6-8 225 Fr. Brampton, Ontario, CN 12.0 7.7
USC probable starters
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG
G 10 Maurice Jones 5-7 155 Fr. Saginaw, Mich 12.6 3.3
G 15 Bryce Jones 6-5 200 Fr. Los Angeles 12.8 2.8
G 43 Marcus Simmons 6-6 220 Sr. Alexandria, La. 6.4 4.5
F 1 Alex Stepheson 6-10 250 Sr.* Los Angeles 8.3 7.6
F 5 Nikola Vucevic 6-10 260 Jr. Bar, Montenegro 16.0 10.9
* utilized redshirt season
USC player to watch: junior forward Nikola Vucevic
Recently, the 6-foot-10 Serbian had five assists in three consecutive games, and USC went 2-1 in that stretch, the only loss coming by one point to Bradley.
Vucevic acquired those assists when he worked out of the high-post area, a location in which he could find open shooters or shoot himself, if defenders allowed as much.
It worked pretty well for him and for the Trojans' offense, which ran much more efficiently.
But Vucevic had zero assists in USC's losses at Nebraska and Texas Christian, and, overall, played selfishly.
Having him pull down rebounds and score helps USC a great deal, but if he can get his teammates involved, the team plays at a completely different level, which is what it needs against Texas.
Texas player to watch: sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton
As Austin American Statesman corespondent Mark Rosner noted in the lead of his story today, "Jordan Hamilton has a home game tonight, even if the arena is 1,400 miles from the Erwin Center."
Yes, the 6-foot-7 Hamilton, a former Compton Dominguez star, is a Southland native, and after being gone for about 18 months, the top-shelf NBA draft prospect will be returning to play in front of several friends and family members tonight, including his younger brothers, Isaac and Daniel, who both play at Crenshaw High School.
Hamilton is playing pretty well in general, leading Texas in scoring (21.7) and ranking third in rebounding (7.0), but the fact that he'll be in his backyard -- he said the Galen Center is about "five minutes" from his house -- ought to give him plenty of juice for the game, which is bad news for USC.
Key to the game: interior offense
Texas is going to double-team USC freshman guard Maurice Jones to deny him the ball, which will make it tough for USC to run its offense.
But if the Trojans can some how work it inside to their big men -- Vucevic and Stepheson -- and if they can establish some kind of inside game, whether by put-backs off rebounds or by some post moves of their own, they could get some of the Longhorns' big men in foul trouble, which would be paramount.
Seeing as how USC is outmatched in talent and athleticism (as well as overall skill), the Trojans' size advantage inside is really their only advantage. If they can exploit it, they might have a chance.
-Counting tonight, USC's next four games are against teams with a combined 23-3 record: Texas (6-1), Northern Arizona (5-2), Kansas (6-0) and Tennessee (6-0). Yikes.
-USC has won the rebounding edge in six of its eight games, and holds a 291-250 advantage overall.
-USC is 5-5 all times against Texas.
John Rudometkin, USC’s seventh-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder all-time, will have his No. 44 jersey retired as part of a ceremony to honor the 1961 Trojan league championship team at halftime of tonight's game.
Here is part of the release USC sent out regarding Rudometkin:
In his three-year career spanning the 1960-62 seasons, Rudometkin averaged 18.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Rudometkin earned All-America honors in 1961 and 1962 and was named the team MVP all three seasons he played varsity for USC.
Two times in his 79-game career at USC Rudometkin posted 20-point, 20-rebound games, registering 21 points and 21 rebounds vs. Denver on Sept. 28, 1961 and recording 23 points and 21 rebounds at Wyoming on Dec. 22, 1961. He was the 11th pick in the 1962 NBA Draft, but lasted only three seasons in the NBA with the New York Knicks and San Francisco Warriors as his career was cut short due to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The 1960-61 USC men’s basketball team went 21-8 and won the AAWU championship with a 9-3 record, the Trojans’ last regular season outright conference championship.
Members of the 1960-61 team expected to be on hand for the ceremony include Chris Appel, Verne Ashby, Bob Benedetti, Will Carleton, Neil Carleton, Pete Hillman, Bill Ledger, Gordon Martin, Bill Parsons and Wells Sloniger.
Tony Psaltis, who was an assistant coach on that team and passed away on Oct. 30 this year, will be represented by his sons.
-- Baxter Holmes