USC coach Kevin O’Neill has a simple solution for stopping the opponent’s leading scorer: assigning senior guard Marcus Simmons to defend him.
“Marcus Simmons is becoming as good of a defensive stopper in college as you can have,” O’Neill said.
Simmons does not have to score frequently — his 5.2 points per game average is the lowest among USC’s starters, but he can be counted on to relentlessly defend the opponent’s best player, regardless of position.
“He has a single-mindedness about him,” O’Neill said. “If you give him one thing to do, he does it exceptionally well.”
Simmons held Thompson, the Pac-10’s leading scorer who has a .476 shooting percentage, to 6 for 18 shooting.
Despite being 6-foot-6, he guarded speedy 5-foot-9 guard Isaiah Thomas, who only managed to finish with 10 points and a game-high six turnovers.
Against UCLA, Simmons held forward Tyler Honeycutt to 10 points and forced him into seven turnovers, which tied his season high.
In USC’s win against Texas, forward Jordan Hamilton, who averages 19.2 points per game, only scored 12 points.
“I think I can guard anybody,” Simmons said.
When USC hosts Stanford tonight at 7:30 p.m., Simmons will likely be matched-up against guard Jeremy Green, whose 15.5 points-per-game average leads the team and ranks sixth in the Pac-10.
“Jeremy Green, in my mind, has a chance to be a NBA player,” O’Neill said. “He is a level up even from some of the guys that we have played. Marcus has been a tremendous stopper for us, and we hope that he does the same kind of job on Jeremy on Thursday.”
The Cardinal (10-6, 3-2) opened Pac-10 competition with convincing wins against California and Arizona State before losing two of its next three games.
Forward Josh Owens averages 12.1 points and a team-leading 6.5 rebounds for Stanford. His .619 field goal percentage ranks second in the Pac-10.
Tonight’s game will be the first without freshman guard Bryce Jones, who announced that he intends to transfer, citing playing time as one of the reasons that he is leaving.
“We will have to play somebody else in the eighth spot [in the rotation], but I do not know who that will be,” O’Neill said. “We are basically a rotation of seven now instead of eight unless somebody else starts to come along.”
Jones averaged 7.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 18 games, including 10 starts. He was second on the team in three-point baskets made and steals.