Pre-Game: Arizona vs. USC

Jamelle Horne and Russ Pennell hope for a redemptive win tonight against USC

Jamelle Horne and Russ Pennell hope for a redemptive win tonight against USC

One of the greatest things about PAC-10 basketball is teams get a chance to try and make amends for the “what-ifs” that often go hand-in-hand with one-point losses. Arizona will get such a chance tonight when in a rematch of a 65-64 January 17th loss when they face off with USC tonight in Tucson. The Wildcats were done in by a poorly officiated play in which Nic Wise was called for an intentional foul and a questionable call (or a poor decision depending on your perspective) on Jamelle Horne with 1.2 seconds remaining in the game.

Other factors, such as shooting 64% from the free throw line, a would be last-possession turnover by Nic Wise, and no significant contributions from any player other the “Big Three” also contributed to the one-point loss. Can the Wildcats continue their five-game winning streak and make amends for a one-point loss marked by poor execution?

The success of the Wildcats since the horrific loss would indicate that they should. First and foremost the one-point loss came on the road – where the ‘Cats have been less than impressive this season. This time the ‘Cats will play at home where they have played some of their best basketball of the season with wins over Washington and Kansas. The ‘Cats have also turned things around with better production from the “Little Three” (Fogg, Horne, and Johnson) and have now climbed back into the national radar.

The Trojans on the other hand, have continued their inconsistent play as they’ve gone 3-2 during the past five games while struggling against Washington, Washington State, Stanford and UCLA.

Keys to the Game

 Avoid the Thorns: DeMar DeRozan is a key for the Trojans, whether he’s scoring or playing shut-down defense, DeRozan will make an impact every game. Arizona needs to focus on limiting him offensively, but more importantly is beating him defensively. Budinger had a solid game against him last time out, and the ‘Cats need to run set plays to get Budinger open looks.

Battle on the Blocks: Taj Gibson and Jordan Hill – round two. These are still the best two frontcourt players in the conference and will battle for every possession and every loose ball. Neither team has a deep frontcourt, so foul trouble will prove costly. Arizona needs to look to attack Gibson on the block and prevent him from taking over the paint.

Attention to Detail: Free throws, loose balls, turnovers, and transition defense did the ‘Cats in last time out. Arizona needs to execute and take care of the details. Missed opportunities are bound to doom the ‘Cats again – especially if they can’t control their turnovers and USC’s fast-break opportunities.

Get Fired Up: Yes, UCLA is coming to town and it is easy to look ahead to big games like that. But this game, and every game from here on out is just as important and big. The Wildcats need to separate themselves from the other bubble teams by beating a few of them – they have that opportunity tonight against USC. The ‘Cats absolutely must play with intensity and determination. A lack-luster effort will put their Tournament hopes in jeopardy.


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February 2009
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PAC-10 Power Rankings

1. Cal 2. Washington 3. UCLA 4. Arizona 5. Oregon 6. Oregon State 7. Arizona State 8. Washington State 9. Stanford 10. USC

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