With one conference win in 18 tries and a 6-25 record overall, the USC men’s basketball team didn’t achieve much success during the 2011-2012 regular season. In fact, in addition to finishing last in the Pac-12, the Trojans posted their worst win/loss percentage in school history and tied their 1977 counterparts for fewest victories in a single season.
But on Wednesday, they’ll have a chance to start anew in their opening-round game of the Pac-12 tournament against UCLA. USC enters the tournament as the No. 12 seed, and the Bruins, who ended up as the No. 5 seed, are the highest-seeded team to not receive a first-round bye — finishing behind Washington, Cal, Oregon and Arizona, respectively.
“I’m happy that’s how we get to start off, because we want to get a win against them,” sophomore forward Garrett Jackson said of UCLA. “We lost to them twice previously.”
The Bruins (18-13, 11-7) first defeated USC on Jan. 15, by a score of 66-47, and beat them again on Feb. 15, 64-54. Guard Lazeric Jones led the team in scoring with an average of 13.4 points, 4.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game during the regular season. Jones also got plenty of help from his frontcourt — forward brothers Travis and David Wear both averaged more than 10 points per contest, as did center Josh Smith.
“UCLA is playing the best they’ve played all year right now,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “Let’s face it — when we go through warm-ups, it will be obvious which team should win the game. To me, other than North Carolina, they have the best frontline in the country.”
The Trojans will attempt to counter UCLA’s talent with what’s left of their roster — USC only has six healthy players on scholarship. Still, O’Neill expects a spirited performance from his team.
“I think our guys are going to be motivated just to play,” O’Neill said. “Regardless of who we’re playing on the other side, I would hope that our team responds with a great effort. And I think they will.”
Jackson, who contributed 15 points, four steals and three blocks in his last matchup against the crosstown Bruins, knows what’s needed for his team to have a chance.
“We definitely have to get in front of their post guys and limit their post touches,” Jackson said. “Put pressure on their outside guys, make it tough to get it inside.”
O’Neill, meanwhile, offered a more general outline of what it might take to pull off an upset win.
“If they’re on their game, it’s going to be difficult to beat them,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to try to do what we did over in their place and try to make it an eight-point game with five minutes left and hopefully steal one. That’s our goal and that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. at the Staples Center. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net.