By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Southern California's season has not been an easy one.
Just before the season began, sophomore point guard Rodrick Stewart decided to transfer. One month later, just four games into the season, head coach Henry Bibby was fired. Jim Saia took over on an interim basis, and USC hired Rick Majerus, who held the job all of five days before he resigned. Now, Tim Floyd will take over the team next season.
The Trojans (9-13, 2-9 Pacific 10 Conference) come into tonight's game against Arizona (19-4, 9-2) with just two conference wins, sitting at the bottom of the conference standings.
So why is there reason for concern?
"Any time you play on the road, you have your hands full," said UA head coach Lute Olson. "USC has been a very difficult team for us in Los Angeles." The Wildcats lost last year 99-90 at USC, the fifth time in eight years Arizona has lost to the Trojans in Los Angeles.
USC's two conference wins this season came against decent Pac-10 teams, ASU and California. Both are 5-6 in conference play, part of a three-way tie for third place in the standings. In Tempe, the Trojans defeated the Sun Devils 84-81 in overtime, keeping ASU standout Ike Diogu to his lowest point total of the season (15 points) and getting him to foul out.
Against Cal, sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart scored 23 points in an 83-66 win in Los Angeles.
When USC came to Tucson on Jan. 13, the Wildcats won 77-68. Junior guard Chris Rodgers led all scorers with a career-high 22 points coming off the bench. The teams exchanged the lead 13 times in the first half and were tied four times. The Wildcats led by four going at the half, but went on a 6-0 run to open the second half and managed to hold the Trojans off.
Stewart is the top scorer for the Trojans at 14 points per game and has scored in double figures 15 of his last 19 games. Stewart trails only UA senior guard Salim Stoudamire in the conference with 3-pointers made. Stoudamire leads the conference with 68 treys, while Stewart has 60 this season, on 43 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
They also have a big presence in the middle with forward Jeff McMillan, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior, and center Rory O'Neil, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound senior. McMillan averages 8.3 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game, while O'Neil averages 8.5 and 4.3, respectively.
"You have to know each one's tendencies," said Arizona sophomore center Kirk Walters of the Trojan big men. "They're both different players; they're both good players."
Olson said the Trojans' home floor, the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, provides an atmosphere that is a little different than what the Wildcats are accustomed to.
"We are used to sellout crowds and loud and boisterous places, and their place is about the nearest thing to Washington State in terms of being able to hear the ball bounce and that kind of thing," Olson said.
"It's a different kind of place to play. The background is different from about every other place we play."
The Wildcats take on UCLA Saturday in Pauley Pavilion at 6 p.m. The Bruins are a young team, with three freshmen starters in guard-forward Josh Shipp and guards Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. UCLA is led by senior guard-forward Dijon Thompson, who is third in the conference in points (17.8) and rebounds (8.3).
In Tucson on Jan. 15, it took a Stoudamire 3-pointer with just over two seconds left on the clock to win the game, 76-73.
"I can't wait to get Arizona at home," Thompson said after the game. "It's something that I look forward to."