The Stanford men’s basketball team begins one of its toughest road trips of the season tonight when it heads to Los Angeles to take on USC.
The Cardinal (10-6, 3-2 Pac-10) is looking to continue a surprisingly strong start to its season. The team, which now sits in fourth place in the conference standings, is fresh off a weekend split at home, in which it narrowly defeated then-No. 17 Washington and lost to Washington State.
In the defeat, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins had no excuse for his team’s first home loss for the year.
“They were long and tough to defend,” he said of the Cougars. “We got beat.”
Dawkins and his young squad must regroup immediately and will undoubtedly rely on veteran leadership to overcome early troubles on the road.
One of those upperclassmen, redshirt junior Josh Owens, has come on strong of late and has brought his per-game season averages up to 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds. Owens, who missed all of the 2009-10 campaign due to an undisclosed injury, should come out with a vengeance in SoCal after missing a game-tying free throw in the closing seconds of Stanford’s matchup with Wazzu.
“Josh is improving and he has been working very hard,” Dawkins said. “I think he’s starting to get his timing back. He’s rounding into basketball shape and we’re excited.
“We’re happy he has the opportunity to come back and do something he loves,” he added.
Junior guard Jeremy Green has emerged as the go-to guy for the Cardinal, but has seen his scoring average drop to 15.5 points per game due to a cold shooting streak and heightened defensive pressure.
The Trojans (10-8, 2-3) have had their way with Green in their four meetings, holding him to just seven points per game. Starting junior guard Jarrett Mann has also struggled offensively against the team, failing to record a field goal in just 10 shot attempts against USC.
That said, this Trojans team remains an enigma. Despite eight losses and a sub-.500 conference record, the squad has recorded marquee wins against Texas and Tennessee, two clubs almost assured a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March. USC’s strength lies in its defense, which gives up just 63.3 points per game on 40.9-percent shooting.
However, Stanford is even more dominant on the defensive end, tied at No. 19 in the nation in scoring defense. The team is holding opponents to 59.8 points per game through 16 appearances.
The Cardinal’s defensive frontcourt will have its hands full tonight against USC 6-foot-10 junior forward Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic has been a double-double machine this season, posting averages of 16.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. His presence on the boards could prove costly for an undersized Stanford squad that has been riddled by rebounding difficulties.
The Cardinal and Trojans have one of the closest historical records in the nation, with USC posting a 119-118 advantage in the teams’ 237 meetings. The squads are 5-5 in their last 10 matchups with the Trojans notching a five-point victory the last time the two met in L.A.
Stanford will look to even up the series tonight when it visits the Galen Center. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.