LOS ANGELES (AP)—O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love, freshmen stars a year ago, are gone to the NBA.
The pair proved a huge national draw last year when crosstown rivals Southern California and UCLA met, with each winning on the other’s floor during the regular season. Their exodus caused the teams to adjust, and both have been pretty successful so far this year, with newcomers again having an impact.
At USC, freshman DeMar DeRozan has assumed some of Mayo’s acclaim, while five hyped first-year players are logging minutes for 10th-ranked UCLA, which brings an eight-game winning streak into Sunday night’s first crosstown matchup of this season on the Trojans’ home court.
DeRozan isn’t the explosive presence that Mayo was, but the 6-foot-7 forward from Compton has averaged 15.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Trojans’ last five games.
“He’s really athletic and really attacks the basket and is really a good defender,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “He’s a hard matchup for us because of his length.”
DeRozan is backed in the starting lineup by four upperclassmen, including leading scorer Dwight Lewis (16.1) and Taj Gibson (15.4), also the Trojans’ top rebounder with 10.6 per game.
“I’m learning every day, taking everything I can from each practice and game,” DeRozan said. “I want to bring something different every time I step on the court. I try to be diverse.”
USC (10-4, 1-1 Pac-10) is coming off a 62-58 overtime loss at Oregon State last weekend in which the Trojans blew a 15-point, second-half lead.
“Taking care of the ball will be important,” said USC coach Tim Floyd, who is 2-5 against UCLA.
The Bruins (12-2, 2-0) opened Pac-10 play with a sweep of the Oregon schools. They are 2-0 at Galen Center, winning both previous meetings on the Trojans’ new home court.
“With all that success there, it gives us confidence,” said Darren Collison, who leads UCLA in scoring with 15.0 per game and will try to extend his school-record consecutive free throw streak of 40.
Freshman Jrue Holiday, who has started all 14 of the Bruins’ games, will likely guard DeRozan, his friend since they began playing against each other in 6th grade.
Holiday (10.3 points) and fellow freshmen Malcolm Lee (5.1 points), Drew Gordon (4.3 points), Jerime Anderson (3.4 points) and J’mison Morgan (2.7) have had a growing impact on the Bruins since their 68-64 loss at No. 7 Texas on Dec. 4.
“This group of freshmen really want to contribute to the team and may do so for two or three years,” Holiday said, as opposed to Love, who left after one season. “It’s up to the freshmen to get to (the seniors’) level.”
The Bruins have seen a lot of zone this season, and they can expect to see some of Floyd’s NBA-inspired defenses Sunday.
“I know coach Floyd always has something up his sleeve,” Collison said, referring to the triangle-and-two defense the Trojans used against UCLA last season.
Minor injuries could affect both teams. USC freshman Leonard Washington, out the last three games because of a high ankle sprain, is doubtful for Sunday, Floyd said.
Washington, who injured his left ankle against Georgia Tech on Dec. 22, is averaging six rebounds. But forward Marcus Simmons, who had a sprained ankle, should be able to play.
UCLA’s Lee, shooting 53 percent from the floor, is probable despite a left knee injury that has kept him on the bench for two weeks.