Friday, January 19, 2007

Making a Believer Out of Me

At the beginning of the season, USC was identified as one of the talented, up and coming teams in the Pac-10 and a legitimate NCAA tournament contender. However it wouldn't have surprised anyone if USC had fallen short of those expectations, because...well, because they're USC basketball, and that's what they do. They've had plenty of talented players in the past (Jeff Trepagnier, Desmon Farmer, Errick Craven, Sam Clancy etc), but have always ended up playing as a dysfunctional collection of individuals, rather than as a team. This year however, USC has four very skilled starters- Nick Young, Taj Gibson, Gabe Pruitt, and Lodrick Stewart- all of whom play energetic, unselfish team basketball. Any of those four players can step it up on any given day, as the Arizona Wildcats learned the hard way tonight in a 80-73 USC victory. Lodrick Stewart carried the Trojans early, and Nick Young put the game away late, finishing with 30 points. While they still have some glaring weaknesses- a very shallow bench and poor crunch time free throw shooting- the Trojans are a team to be reckoned with.

Arizona, however, seems to be plagued with the problems that always impeded USC's seasons in years past. On paper, they are spectacularly talented. However, once the game starts, the team is marred by selfish play, as each player is clearly trying to make a statistical impact to impress NBA scouts. The player most guilty of selfish play is sophomore forward Marcus Williams, who has taken about a third of the team's field goal attempts in the last four games. As a result, the ball movement has been very poor of late. The other problem with Arizona is they have no bench to speak of; and so the starting five appear to wear down a bit in the last five minutes of the game.

While USC's players may be establishing themselves as a legitimate member of the upper half of the Pac-10, USC's students were not so convinced of their status. After the final seconds ticked off the clock of their mid-season home victory, SC students rushed the court in celebration of handing Arizona its fourth loss of the year- much to the surprise of the players who were in the midst of a routine postgame handshake. C'mon guys, you go to Southern Cal, not CSUN- act like you've won a prime time game before. Even Fox Sports anchor and USC alum Lindsay Soto was embarrassed by her fellow Trojans. Said Soto during the postgame wrap-up:

"You would have thought they had just won the tournament with the way fans rushed the court. We need to learn how to win."

Actually, it was a bad day for all Fox Sports reporters covering that game, as another one conducted this interview with 21 year-old freshman Taj Gibson in the SC locker room:

FSN reporter
: How nasty was Nick Young's dunk?
Taj Gibson: It was pretty nasty. It should make top 10 on ESPN.
FSN reporter: ESPN?! We FSN, dawg! FSN!!

Back at the sports desk, Lindsay Soto followed it up by pointing to the FSN logo on the microphone and saying in her best sorority voice, "Duhhh." That's why she gets the sports Emmy.

In other Pac-10 action, UCLA beat Arizona State 60-50 on a night when the Bruins were obviously looking ahead to their matchup with Arizona Saturday. The last time USC had a big win, it was over Oregon; and the Ducks responded by rallying together and beating UCLA. UCLA will be presented with a similar scenario in a couple days. Saturday's game should be pretty tough for the Bruins, as the Wildcats are certainly going to come out playing aggressively after back to back losses to SC and Oregon.

The Ducks continued their winning ways with a 66-59 victory over Stanford, and remaing atop the Pac 10. Aaron Brooks carried the team, which had to rally back from an 8 point second-half deficit. Rather than try to describe the game, as an experiment, I thought I'd try to capture the ebb and flow of the game, as experienced through television cutaways to Oregon cheerleaders:

As you can see, the game was mostly tight with a few turnovers here and there, causing the lead to flip back and forth. While there was one huge performance from the Oregon squad, by and large, it was a well-coordinated, streamlined effort. I look forward to watching the Ducks play as much as I can this season.


At Fri Jan 19, 10:08:00 AM PST , Anonymous Sanchez said...


What were we talking about... oh yeah selfish play in college ball.

You would have thought a decent coach could convince his team that if they play together weel then the team will perform better and the good stats will come.

Or maybe thats not how it works at all for the scouts, I'm not sure. Surely if a team performed well week after week then a scout would think highly of the players on that team and each one would get the tick in the [great team player] box.

What do you think Insomniac?

At Fri Jan 19, 11:16:00 AM PST , Blogger insomniac said...

We've certainly seen how unselfish play could benefit both the team and the individual in Florida. Not only do all the players have one championship already, but Noah, Horford, and Brewer are all going to be first rounders.

I just get the feeling watching Arizona, that part of Marcus Williams sees Chase Budinger as a threat. I might be imagining things, but it sure does seem like Williams has been forcing a lot of shots lately.


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