Preview: USC at UCLA

We're about to tip off at the Galen Center, where USC and UCLA are warming up prior to tonight's 7 p.m. start.

A few things to watch in the matchup:

  • Will USC capitalize inside?

UCLA forward James Keefe is out tonight with an injured shoulder, and an already-thin Bruin front line will be perilously thin. USC's Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson — one of the two — should be able to push aside anything (read: Tyler Honeycutt or freshman Brendan Lane) thrown at them. When USC and UCLA played last month, Vucevic went for 19 points and 6 rebounds in leading USC to a 67-46 victory.

  • Which guard combination will see its shots fall?

In each of the school's last contests, USC's Mike Gerrity and Dwight Lewis went cold against Stanford, while UCLA's Malcolm Lee and Michael Roll combined for 29 points against Cal. Any advantage the Trojans gain on the inside can be lost on the outside — especially with hot shooting from Roll and/or Lee. Gerrity will be, in all likelihood, unable to defend Lee straight up, so you'll likely see USC coach Kevin O'Neill mix in some Marcus Simmons to help on the defensive end.

  • How big of a role will the crowd play?

The traditionally half-filled Galen Center is already packed tonight, and the student section will surely be rowdy. As Lewis said after practice this week, the Trojans feed off the crowd. A sustained, loud crowd could make a big difference for the Trojans.

  • What's on the line for the two schools?

Well, for USC (14-9, 6-5), the possibility of postseason play is no motivation, but a win would boost morale significantly and give O'Neill's team its first home win against UCLA in the history of the Galen Center.

For UCLA (11-12, 6-5), it's a chance to regain third place in the Pac-10 and a good boost to the final six conference games. A loss would mean the Bruins drop to sixth in the conference.

We'll have halftime and postgame updates.