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USC basketball: Washington pregame

December 29, 2010 |  7:19 pm

Greetings and salutations!

Coming to you from the Galen Center, where tonight USC (8-5) and Washington (8-3) tip off Pacific 10 Conference play in what the experts (including this hack) expect to be a pretty exciting game.

If you weren't privy, you might have missed the avalanche of first-place votes Washington received in October as the team picked to win the league. 

That avalanche was deserved, mind you. The Huskies return four starters from a 26-10 team a season ago that won the conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament regional semifinal.  

Still, the Huskies so far haven't looked convincingly like the team everyone thought they would be.

Cue Dennis Green...

They've topped the 100-point mark four times and are ranked second in the nation in scoring (90.5), but in their three losses, they have averaged 66.7 points. 

USC, meanwhile, has won four of five and seems very little like the team that lost to Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and Texas Christian earlier this season. Two of those last four wins have been against ranked teams -- Texas and Tennessee -- and the Trojans nearly upset No. 3 Kansas on the road. 

In the end, the Trojans were picked to finish sixth in league play, but all of the sudden, the gap between them and Huskies seems narrower. (For what it's worth, Washington is favored by 3.5 points tonight.)

So, that said, this game could go a long way in setting the tone for the conference race. 

But I digress ...

Here are some facts and stats to get you ready before tipoff at 7:30 p.m. (radio broadcast on 830):

Points per game/opponents points per game
USC: 69.1/62.3
Washington: 90.5/68.2

Washington probable starters

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG

G 0 Abdul Gaddy 6-3 195 So. Tacoma, Wash. 9.5 2.3

G 2 Isaiah Thomas 5-9 185 Jr. Tacoma, Wash. 15.8 3.8

F 11 Matt Bryan-Amaning 6-9 240 Sr. London, England 13.9 6.5

F 22 Justin Holiday 6-6 185 Sr. Chatsworth, Calif. 12.5 6.2

C 5 Aziz N’Diaye 7-0 260 So. Dakar, Senegal 5.7 6.4

USC probable starters

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG

G 2 Jio Fontan 6-0 175 Jr. Paterson, N.J. 16.3 1.7

G 10 Maurice Jones 5-7 155 Fr. Saginaw, Mich 11.3 3.6

G 43 Marcus Simmons 6-6 220 Sr. Alexandria, La. 5.5 3.2

F 1 Alex Stepheson 6-10 250 Sr.* Los Angeles 9.8 8.6

F 5 Nikola Vucevic 6-10 260 Jr. Bar, Montenegro 15.2 9.6

* utilized redshirt season

USC player to watch: junior guard Jio Fontan

Vucevic and Stepheson -- who rank first (9.6) and second (8.6) in the league in rebounding -- could be an easy choice for this category.

Last season, when USC pounded Washington by 26 points at the Galen Center, the two 6-foot-10 forwards combined for 26 points and 19 rebounds and gave Washington's big men fits. 

But Fontan has been playing extremely well since becoming eligible after having not played in more than a year.

In three games since joining the team, Fontan, a transfer from Fordham, has averaged 16.3 points and this week he earned Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors. 

He has taken pressure off freshman guard Maurice Jones and provided crucial leadership to a team that was severely lacking it.

Against a talented team that wants to suck the Trojans into its fast-pace style, Fontan's composure will be key for USC if the Trojans are able to pull out the win. 

Washington player to watch: junior guard Isaiah Thomas

He's one of three Huskies scoring in double-figures this season, averaging 15.8 points per game, and he was widely considered the preseason pick to snag player-of-the-year honors, though Washington State guard Klay Thompson, who is averaging 22.3 points going into Wednesday's games, looks like a strong contender to win that award. 

Thomas is no slouch. He was one of 50 players named to the 2010-11 John R. Wooden preseason list as a candidate for college basketball's most outstanding player, and he is also one of 66 candidates for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's top point guard.  

He also keys Washington's up-tempo play, and he has a green light to shoot whenever he pleases. He has made plenty of them too. With 1,134 points through two seasons, he has scored more than any Washington player in his first two years. 

Key to the game: Tempo.

Washington wants to play up-tempo. USC wants to throw it inside to its two big men and wear Washington down. Washington's strategy didn't work last season. USC's did. 

That said, USC has a young backcourt and its freshmen guards could easily fall into the Huskies' pace, which would probably kill USC's chances of winning because it's simply not built to be an up-tempo team.

Regardless, whichever team dictates tempo should win. USC is at home so you've got to like its chances.

Lastly...

-- Washington's seven home wins have come by an average of 30.9 points. But in its only game in an opponent's arena, which came Dec. 11 against Texas A&M, the Huskies lost, 63-62. 

-- USC swept both games against Washington last season, the only Pac-10 team to do so.

-- USC has outrebounded its opponents in nine of 13 games. 

-- USC has allowed an average of 58.2 points and held opponents to 35.3% shooting (94 for 266) in its last five games. 

-- Washington won four road games to end the 2009-10 season and can set a school record with five straight road wins if it beats USC tonight. 

-- Of the four creditable teams Washington has played, the Huskies have lost to three, falling to No. 9 Kentucky (74-67) and No. 2 Michigan State (76-71) at the Maui Invitational tournament and then losing at Texas A&M on the road.

In those three losses, Washington led at halftime, then trailed by two entering the final minutes. And, in truth, those were among the only close games Washington played, so it will be interesting to see how the Huskies play in the second half if it's a tight game. 

-- Baxter Holmes

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