Trojans need Vince Iwuchukwu’s defense, rebounding for NCAA Tournament

The USC Trojans went into the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas feeling terrific about their NCAA Tournament hopes. Unfortunately, their first game was a loss to Arizona State, 77-72, on Day 2 of the tourney.

The Trojans scored just 25 points in the first half, and really this game wasn’t anywhere as close as it might seem (though making the score closer still matters). One important factor was the absence of freshman center Vince Iwuchukwu, who missed his second straight game with a back injury.

Iwuchukwu’s stats don’t jump off the page — he averages 5.4 PPG with 2.5 rebounds. However, his presence down low and on defense is exactly what USC has been missing.

Arizona State and USC both had 34 rebounds, but the Sun Devils won the battle on the offensive glass 14-8, and they shot 39% from the field and 43.8% from 3-point land.

When these teams met for the first time this year in January, Iwuchukwu had 12 points with 5 rebounds and a block in a 77-69 USC win. His absence was evident on Thursday night as well as on Saturday in the Pac-12 regular season finale against the Sun Devils.

It remains to be seen what Iwuchukwu’s status will be for the NCAA Tournament — assuming USC makes it — but Andy Enfield’s team needs him on the floor to have a better chance.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire