USC's riding an eight-game winning streak into tonight's game at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto against a Pac-10 bottom-feeder in Stanford, but extending it won't be easy.
Not at all.
The Trojans (10-4, 2-0) haven't won at Maples since a 2002 upset of the then-No. 10 Cardinal. That USC team, ranked No. 20 at the time, received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and was famously up-ended by UNC-Wilmington.
Now the unranked Cardinal (6-7, 0-1) were blown out by Cal last weekend, 92-66, but they have played teams tough this season -- including a near-upset of John Wall-led Kentucky in November that went to overtime.
The Cardinal boast two of the best scorers in the Pac-10 in Landry Fields and Jeremy Green. Together, they're averaging nearly 40 points a game — more than 50 percent of the team's scoring.
Fields put up 18 points in a losing effort at USC last season. Green has been deadly from behind the three-point line this season, hitting at least one in every game. Don't be surprised to see USC reserve guard Marcus Simmons come into the game early and often; coach Kevin O'Neill trusts him perhaps more than any other player to shut down an opponent's scorers.
For the Trojans, point guard Mike Gerrity will be asked to continue doing what he has been doing in the six games since he debuted with USC: serving as a sparkplug. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, playing at least 35 minutes per game, has changed the complexion of O'Neill's offense since he became eliglible.
With Gerrity on the floor, the Trojans have a true playmaker. Without him, they're essentially clueless on offense.
Now the key to the game for the Trojans is focusing on the task at hand and ignoring the distractions (i.e. the lack of a possibility of postseason play due to university-imposed sanctions) threatening the team. The USC defense is good enough to hold Fields and Green to a collective 30 or so points. And with Gerrity presumably running all over the Stanford point guard tandem of Drew Shiller and Jarrett Mann, offense shouldn't be as hard to come by as it was in Saturday's 47-37 win over Arizona State.
O'Neill said Tuesday that he believes his team can focus — despite the sanctions, and despite the atmosphere at Maples Pavilion.
"Being on the road, in our league, that's difficult," O'Neill said. "But I can only judge our readiness by what I've seen in the two practices since Sunday -- and in those two practices, we've been as focused as we've been all year."
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. The game's not being televised, but we'll have frequent updates on this blog.