(Photo: Josh Orcutt/WCSN)
Following a loss to open Pac-12 play to in-state rival Arizona, the Arizona State Sun Devils look to bounce back against an up-and-coming USC team.
The loss to the Wildcats was the Sun Devils’ fourth of the season, and it was as hard-fought and energetic as any Sun Devil basketball game this season. Despite the loss, ASU head coach Bobby Hurley displayed his passion for his team when he received his second technical of the game with under a minute to go.
Their fiery coach and all-around production have played a large part in making it known that the Sun Devils are a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 this season, but the USC Trojans are on the rise as well.
In his third season as head coach, Andy Enfield’s Trojans have already matched their win total from last season, and one-upped their season total from his first year at USC. After two conference games so far, the Trojans have won one and lost one. Their win came against Washington State, and the loss came at the hands of Washington in dramatic comeback-fashion as USC blew a 22-point lead.
USC is averaging just under 84 points per game, and its offensive explosiveness can be accredited to its well-rounded scoring from the top-six players in the rotation, all averaging more than 10 points per game. Another notable asset of the USC offense is its three-point shooting. It has the best three-point shooting percentage in the conference at 41 percent, and it is the only team to shoot better than 40 percent from three as a team.
Although the Trojans have the eighth best scoring defense in the conference, they have the second-best field goal defense in the conference forcing opponents to shoot 37.9 percent from the floor. In other words, the Trojans like to run, and they certainly have the personnel to do so.
Keys to the Game
Contain Reinhardt and McLaughlin
Everything the Trojans do on the perimeter runs through redshirt junior guard Katin Reinhardt or sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin, and being the two leading scorers on the team, the numbers speak for themselves. With each averaging 13 points, they can get it done in a variety of ways, and they are the most assertive players USC has on the offensive end being the only two on the roster to take more than 130 field goal attempts this season.
Limiting these two means that the Sun Devils forced them to take bad shots, or that other Trojans stepped up in their absence. With the way the Sun Devils have played defensively this season, limiting these two is just another challenge that they have been prepared for thanks to their rigorous non-conference schedule.
Rebounding has been one of the bright spots for the Sun Devils considering how undersized they are compared to most of their opponents this season. The important will be no less against the Trojans, who are third in the conference.
USC’s greatest force on the glass to be aware of is junior forward Nikola Jovanovic, who averages 7.9 rebounds per game to go with his 12.5 points. Thankfully for the Sun Devils, they don’t have to rely solely on senior center Eric Jacobsen to keep Jovanovic off the glass because senior forward Willie Atwood and senior guard Gerry Blakes all have proven to be more than capable of being a game’s top rebounder no matter the matchup.
Win the free throw battle
There is no doubt that this is going to be an up-and-down, track meet of a game with more field goal attempts and possessions than usual thanks to the pace at which USC plays. Being the second-best scoring offense in the conference, there is one weak source of scoring the Trojans have, and that is from the free throw line.
The Trojans shoot a Pac-12 worst 65.7 percent from the free throw line, and making the Trojans shoot free throws may not only prevent a high scoring game, but also slow the pace if ASU wants to making the Trojans beat them in the half-court.