The Wildcats play USC tonight in Tucson. USC is coming off a tough loss to Arizona State on a last second shot by Tra Holder. Before that they lost another close one to UCLA. They are 17-8 overall and are third place in the Pac-12 with an 8-4 conference record.
#11 Jordan McLaughlin 6’1″ G (Sr.)
#30 Elijah Stewart 6’5″ G (Sr.)
#0 Shaqquan Aaron 6’7″ G (Jr.)
#31 Nick Rakocevic 6’11” F (So.)
#4 Chimezie Metu 6’11” F (Jr.)
Off the bench: #25 Bennie Boatwright 6’10” F (Jr.), #2 Jonah Mathews 6’3″ G (So.), #5 Derryck Thornton 6’2″ G (So.), #1 Jordan Usher 6’7″ G (Fr.)
Offense: USC runs a few different motion offense sets: A high pick and roll; multiple weave screens through the lane; and a simple flex or cross screen across the lane they usually run for Elijah Stewart. They will look for transition baskets when available and are very well balanced with good post play and perimeter shooting. The guards can create their own shots and they don’t hesitate to put the ball up towards the basket. They are 1st in the Pac-12 in field goal attempts. Metu and Rakocevic man the post and are an excellent interior tandem. Boatwright and Mathews provide instant offense off the bench. Mathews and McLaughlin are their most consistent 3 point shooters, both shooting a hair under 44% from distance.
Defense: Against ASU, the Trojans mainly played a 2-3 zone but also peppered in some man-to-man. Their 2-3 zone is an interesting one. The wings on the bottom 3 play out high and often times the perimeter defenders will switch positions in the zone. Elijah Stewart seemed to have free reign at times, following one player primarily before passing him off to another defender. This defense has an appearance of a match-up zone and even, at times, a box in 1. Most 2-3 zones leave the free throw line and elbow area open, but USC’s version covered the high post quite well with Stewart floating around the mid-range area.
Strengths: This is a veteran team with good bench production. They will go 9 deep and have 4 or 5 players who can consistently hit the 3. They are a complete offensive team with the ability to slash to the basket, shoot the perimeter, and score in the post.
Weaknesses: There is not much this team can’t do. They play well in all areas but are a little susceptible to giving up fast break baskets. They can be a very “streaky” team. Against ASU they scored only 11 points in the 1st ten minutes of the game only to turn around and score 26 points in the next 10 minutes (while Metu was mainly on the bench with foul trouble). They fouled a lot against ASU and much of the second half was spent at the free throw line for the Sun Devils.
Summary: The Trojans are coming off two very tough losses to UCLA and then ASU. In both games they had a lead late in the game and seemed to be on their way to a win. Against ASU they were up 7 with 2:20 left and ended up losing by 2. They have good size inside and are very well balanced. This is not a shy team by any means and they don’t mind putting up a lot of shots. In conference play, they are 1st in field goal attempts, assists, and steals.
Keys for the Cats: The defensive struggles continue for Arizona. They will be put to the test once again against a very athletic and offensively aggressive USC. The Trojans, much like UCLA, can beat you both from the perimeter or from the post. If USC plays zone like they did against ASU, the Cats will need to get some consistent perimeter shooting. They haven’t played or shot particularly well against zone defense this year. Rakocevic (6’11”) and Boatwright (6’10”) could pose match up problems with Ayton most likely guarding Metu. Boatwright could possibly be slotted back into the starting line-up for this game. The guard play for USC is some of the best in the Pac-12. McLaughlin, Stewart, and Mathews are all capable of putting up points in bunches and Arizona’s defense will need to get consistent stops and rebounding while weathering a barrage of shots to hold off the Trojans.