When the Trojans travel across town to face UCLA on Saturday, they might notice something missing from Pauley Pavilion, the home of college basketball’s most storied program. That would be the Bruins’ luster, lost amid a sputtering start by a team that reached the NCAA Final Four as recently as 2008.
“It’s probably not their strongest year in the past five,” said redshirt senior guard Mike Gerrity.
While the Trojans (10-6, 2-2) have exceeded expectations this season with victories against the likes of UNLV and Tennessee, the Bruins are struggling to keep up. No longer the dominant team in Los Angeles, UCLA (7-9, 2-2) is off to its worst start in seven years.
But the Trojans aren’t taking their opponent lightly.
“In the Pac-10, every game every team comes out to play, no matter if you’re in first place or 10th place,” Gerrity said. “We’re still expecting a tough ball game.”
That kind of mindset should come in handy, especially because UCLA has begun to show signs of life. After losing four of their first six games, the Bruins have reversed course by going 4-2 since their loss to Notre Dame on Dec. 19.
UCLA’s recent revival includes a 76-75 overtime victory against California, the same team that handed the Trojans a 67-59 loss last Saturday.
Still searching for its first road win of the season, USC must address late-game miscues from that contest in order to get past the Bruins.
Turnovers, offensive fouls and missed shots doomed the Trojans in the final minutes against Cal. USC also had trouble scoring near the rim and went to the free throw line just five times.
“I know personally the past two games I haven’t been to the free throw line once,” Gerrity said. “We definitely want to be more aggressive, get to the basket and force defenses to play us.”
Along with taking a more active approach on offense, the Trojans will look to contain UCLA guards sophomore Malcolm Lee and senior Michael Roll, who both average close to 14 points per game. USC currently ranks second in the nation in points allowed per game at 55.2, behind Arizona State.
Gerrity, who played for Pepperdine and Charlotte before transferring to USC last year, will be facing the Bruins for the first time.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’ve grown up in Southern California, and I’ve seen the [USC-UCLA] rivalry my entire life. To be part of it — be on the court and hopefully contribute to a win — would just be exciting.”
Tip off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.