GAMES NOTES: A Golden State showdown will be held at the Galen Center on Saturday with the UC Riverside Highlanders colliding with the USC Trojans.
The early returns of this season have not been kind to UC Riverside. After a 62-40 loss to Pepperdine in its last game, UCR has taken defeats in four of its last five games, while dropping to 2-7 overall. That mark includes an 0-3 ledger on the road. The Highlanders will be back on their home floor for three straight games, beginning next Tuesday against Whittier College.
It has also been a struggle for USC to post victories this season. The Trojans fell at home to No. 13 Minnesota by a 71-57 margin in its last outing which was the fifth straight loss for the Trojans, who are just 3-6 overall. USC has had mild success at home with two wins in four tries at the Galen Center. USC finishes the current three-game homestand against UC Irvine next Thursday before a quick road trip to face Georgia.
This has been a short lived instate rivalry with the teams meeting five times since first matching up in 2002. USC has won all five of those meetings, including a 56-35 victory last season.
There were very few positives to take out of a 22-point loss to Pepperdine. The Highlanders shot at just a 28.6 percent clip in the game, while allowing the Waves to connect on 45.5 percent of their field goal attempts. UC Riverside also had only five free throw attempts and 15 turnovers. No player scored in double figures for the Highlanders with Josh Fox and Chris Patton each scoring eight points to pace the team.
Offensive efficiency has not been a strength of the Highlanders. UC Riverside is scoring just 58.3 points per game, while shooting at a less than stellar 40.5 percent from the field. Surprisingly the team's defensive efforts have been above average, limiting teams to 66.4 points per game on just 40.7 percent shooting. UC Riverside has also been able to control the boards regularly with a +5.3 rebounding margin. Scoring depth isn't vast. Chris Harriel (11.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Josh Fox (10.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are the only players scoring in double figures. Harriel could stand to be more selective with his shots though, as he is shooting just 35.9 percent from the field this season. Patton (9.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Robert Smith (9.0 ppg) have each shown the ability to score effectively but have largely settled into supportive roles.
Despite out-shooting Minnesota, USC was unable to pull off an upset due to discrepancies from beyond the arc and the free-throw line. The Trojans shot 42.6 percent to Minnesota's 41.8 percent, but had deficits of 18-3 from 3- point range and 19-10 from the charity stripe. USC was also on the short end in rebounding (40-32). Omar Oraby came off the bench to score a game-high 15 points for the Trojans.
The Trojans' offensive efforts have been better than the Highlanders, but certainly not overly impressive. USC scores at a 63.4 points per game rate while connecting on 41.6 percent of its shots from the field. On the other end teams are netting 67.9 points per game and shooting just a bit better than the Trojans (42.9 FG percentage). USC does not have the advantage of having a positive margin on the boards though (-1.6) with the Trojans collecting the fewest rebounds per game in the Pac-12 (33.1 pg). J.T. Terrell (11.3 ppg) is the top scorer on the team, despite shooting just 30.4 percent from the field. Eric Wise (10.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is also scoring in double figures and has been doing so more efficiently (54.3 FG percentage). However, he has been given fewer chances to score. Byron Wesley (9.9 ppg) has the ability to heat up from the floor and Dewayne Dedmon (6.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is the top rebounder.
For all its own deficiencies, USC still has a much stronger team than UC Riverside. Expect the Trojans to find a bit more success on both ends of the floor en route to a rare comfortable win.