USC is a big challenge for UW men
With forwards Nikola Vucevic (6 feet 10), Alex Stepheson (6-9), Marcus Johnson (6-6) and guards Dwight Lewis (6-5) and Mike Gerrity (6-1), USC has one of the tallest starting fives in the Pac-10.
Seattle Times staff reporter
USC @ UW men, 7:30 p.m., FSN
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At a time when a dominant center is as rare as a ranked Pac-10 team, the latest trend in the conference is one of the oldest business practices: downsizing.
Lacking sufficient big men to monitor the middle, several teams have adopted a three-guard lineup and in extreme situations, like Arizona State, a four-guard lineup that sacrifices size for speed.
And while many teams are getting smaller, the USC Trojans roll into Edmundson Pavilion for Thursday's rematch with the Huskies with a super-sized roster that would make a few NBA teams envious.
Compared to their Pac-10 counterparts, the Trojans are giants.
With forwards Nikola Vucevic (6 feet 10), Alex Stepheson (6-9), Marcus Johnson (6-6) and guards Dwight Lewis (6-5) and Mike Gerrity (6-1), USC has one of the tallest starting fives in the conference.
"The first time they played U-Dub, physically it was a mismatch," said FSN analyst Francis Williams, who covered USC's 87-61 win over UW last month in Los Angeles. "In the Pac-10, USC has the closest semblance to an NBA front line, and nobody else in the conference has anything like that."
The Trojans aren't just tall, they're also one the best defenses in the nation. They rank fourth in the country in points allowed (56.3) and ninth in field-goal percentage defense (.376).
In their first meeting, USC held Washington to 37.1 percent shooting (23 of 61) and a season-low five assists in the 26-point defeat.
"We learned that we better play to the best of our ability or we're going to have a tough time with SC," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "It's probably the most difficult matchup for us in this league because of their size and length. They do a great job of defending."
This season, USC's defense has reached a couple of historical milestones.
The Trojans have allowed 1,352 points in their first 24 games, the fewest since allowing 1,235 points in the first 24 games of the 1950-51 season.
And they held nine consecutive opponents to 56 points or fewer from Dec. 8 to Jan. 6, which is longest streak since holding 12 teams under that mark in the 1947-48 season. USC has held 14 opponents to 56 points or fewer this season and only twice has allowed more than 67 points.
Last month, the Trojans surrendered just 37 points to Arizona State, which was the fewest points the Sun Devils have scored this season.
"They have excellent post (players) and play terrific defense," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "It's a team built and engineered to make it difficult for opponents to score. They're athletic. They're long. They really have been a difficult team to score against."
Six teams have scored fewer than 50 points against the Trojans, including UCLA, which managed 46 in a defeat last month.
Bruins coach Ben Howland said USC is aided by an experienced starting lineup that includes just one underclassman in sophomore Vucevic.
"That's one of the advantages of having veteran guys," Howland said. "A fifth-year player (Gerrity), a sixth-year player (Johnson) and two seniors in the backcourt. They're strong and physical. And have a good scheme."
Vucevic leads the conference with a 9.8 rebounding average and he's sixth in blocked-shots average at 1.3. Stepheson is fourth in rebounding (7.3) and second in blocks (1.7).
They hammered Washington with a combined 36 points and 19 rebounds, but it was Johnson who gave the Huskies fits.
He scored a game-high 22 points and held Quincy Pondexter, one of the leading Pac-10 Player of the Year candidates, to a season-low two points on 1-for-10 shooting.
"It became in some ways a half-court game and they just kind of packed it in," Romar said. "It wasn't very much for Quincy to get there. His jumper wasn't falling that game. There just wasn't a whole lot inside for him."
Said USC coach Kevin O'Neill: "There are no secrets. We're going to play the same way. We always play the same way. We play man-to-man. We'll play the same way we did the last game.
"(Johnson) is not going to be able to hold him like he did the last game. That's impossible to do, but we want to make every catch, every touch and every possession hard for him because if you're not at your best that guy will rack up some numbers on you."
Perhaps Washington State coach Ken Bone summed up USC best when he said: "It looks to me like every possession is important to them."
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