GAME NOTES: A pair of undefeated teams meet in the championship round of the 2012 Maui Invitational on Monday night, as the USC Trojans battle the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Both teams have 6-3 records all-time in this event, and the winner will move on to face the winner of the Texas/Chaminade clash in Tuesday's semifinals.
USC is 2-0 for only the third time in the last 12 years, as the team has topped the likes of Coppin State (87-73) and Long Beach State (62-44), both at home to kick off the campaign. Following this trip out to Hawaii, the Trojans will return home to tangle with nationally-ranked San Diego State next Sunday, and they open Pac-12 Conference play at home against Stanford on Jan. 3, 2013.
Illinois bring a 3-0 mark into this contest, the team having disposed of Colgate (75-55) and St. Francis-NY (89-64) at home, before slipping past Hawaii (78-77) in overtime last Friday. The Illini will wrap up their trip to the islands this week and then head back home for three straight, beginning with next Sunday's visit from Gardner-Webb. UI will open Big Ten Conference play at Purdue on Jan. 2, 2013.
USC has won six of the previous eight matchups between these two teams, but Illinois has been victorious in the last two, the most recent of which being a 90-77 verdict in the first round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
USC is averaging 74.5 ppg while allowing just 58.5 ppg. Now that of course has a lot to do with the fact that Long Beach State produced just 44 points in the most recent outing, but the Trojans are permitting the opposition just 32.3 percent success on their field goal attempts, and they own a +10.0 rebounding margin as well. J.T. Terrell is the team's current scoring leader with 13.5 ppg, while Byron Wesley and Omar Oraby chip in with 11.5 and 10.5 ppg, respectively. Wesley, Eric Wise and Ari Stewart all scored 10 points against LBSU, as the Trojans just couldn't seem to get into an offensive rhythm despite clearly being the better team. The Trojans shot 44.6 percent from the floor, but made good on only 5-of-16 three-point attempts. They did do a sensational job at the defensive end however, holding the 49ers to 28.6 percent field goal efficiency while taking full advantage of 18 LBSU turnovers.
Under the direction of first-year head coach John Groce, the Fighting Illini have jumped out to a 3-0 start thanks to some pretty solid play at both ends of the court. The team is averaging a healthy 80.7 ppg while allowing 65.3 ppg, and its boasts three double-digit scorers led by Brandon Paul and his 19.7 ppg. Tracy Abrams adds 16.7 ppg, while D.J. Richardson tallies 11.0 ppg. Tyler Griffey (9.7 ppg) is close to joining the ranks, and his .571 field goal percentage is tops on the roster right now. Paul scored 25 points, Abrams had 22 and Richardson contributed 16 in the overtime win against Hawaii at the end of last week. The Illini drained 11 three-pointers in the game and committed only nine turnovers, while the Rainbow Warriors coughed the ball up 16 times and shot just 40.9 percent from the floor overall.
This game should be wildly entertaining as these two teams appear to be pretty evenly matched. Give a slight edge to the Illini however, as they seem to have the more balanced scoring attack.