Southern California has been able to stop some of the nation’s top offenses. A matchup with UC Riverside isn’t likely to be nearly as challenging.
The 24th-ranked Trojans, on their best defensive run in 58 years, look to shut down what has been a terrible Highlanders offense when the teams meet Saturday night.
With several talented offensive players on his roster, USC coach Tim Floyd has emphasized defense in practice and the extra work has paid off.
The Trojans (8-3) have held eight straight opponents to 62 points or less for the first time since Dec. 2-28, 1950.
“They didn’t have 3-point shots then, either,” USC freshman star O.J. Mayo said after a 78-55 victory over Cal Poly on Saturday night. “Coach Floyd does a great job emphasizing defense. I’d say 85 or 90 percent of our time in practice is spent on defense.”
Two of the Trojans’ last four games have been against teams with top offenses, and they have lost both despite holding those opponents to season lows in points. They fell 59-55 to then-No. 4 Kansas on Dec. 2 before a 62-58 overtime defeat to No. 2 Memphis two days later.
The last time USC held nine straight opponents to 62 points or less was from Jan. 27-March 3, 1950. The Trojans have an excellent chance to match that mark as they host one of the nation’s worst offenses in their final tune-up before Pac-10 play.
UC Riverside (3-7) is averaging just 57.7 points per game. The Highlanders have been held under 50 points twice, including a 75-38 loss to Minnesota on Dec. 1, and shot just 38.5 percent from the field in a 71-53 loss to Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday night.
USC, meanwhile, is averaging 80.5 points while shooting 60.6 percent from the floor in its last two games. Daniel Hackett scored 19 points and Mayo added 18 points and a season-high six assists for the Trojans on Saturday.
The Trojans start two freshmen (Mayo and Davon Jefferson) and three sophomores (Hackett, Dwight Lewis and Taj Gibson). Mayo leads the team with 19.5 points and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 41.2 percent (28-for-68) from 3-point range.
Mayo is also USC’s top free-throw shooter, making 80.0 percent of his shots while his teammates have struggled. Omitting Mayo’s stats, the Trojans are shooting 64.5 percent from the free-throw line.
Riverside hasn’t been much better from the stripe, shooting 68.7 percent.
The Highlanders are paced by Larry Cunningham, who leads the team with 15.6 points per game. The senior guard, though, has struggled in his last two games, averaging 12.5 points while shooting 27.6 percent (8-for-29) from the field.
Cunningham is the only player averaging double-digits in points for Riverside, which will begin Big West play on Jan. 2 against Pacific.
USC is 2-0 all time against Riverside, winning the last game 81-48 on Nov. 30, 2005.