Both UCLA and USC should be giving thanks entering this holiday because they survived difficult tests to emerge through it with wins. They saw how they can win playing to their strengths while also seeing weaknesses they can start working on.
For USC, they saw how they’re not ready and loaded enough to run with teams that play a more up-tempo style. Illinois ran them off the floor on Monday as USC’s unproven depth was no match for an Illini squad. It showed how they need to work on chemistry and discipline.
That’s what worked for them beating Texas. The Longhorns showed their own lack of discipline while USC stayed within themselves and eventually made the right plays. JT Terrell and Dewayne Dedmon made clutch shots while the Trojans’ defense forced Texas into bad shots down the stretch.
USC hasn’t fully escaped the shooting woes of last season – 34% against Texas is atrocious – yet but winning a close game showed a resolve they didn’t have last year.
As for UCLA, their loss to Georgetown Monday showed that they will struggle against bigger teams. They don’t have enough shooters to beat an aggressive zone defense. While they have the talent to match any team in the country, their frontcourt could hurt them stopping talented versatile forwards.
They also have to be more aggressive. Georgetown dictated the tempo and I felt that once they switched to 2-3 zone, UCLA wilted under the pressure. While they may not face a physical team like the Hoyas, that’s a concern that has to be addressed down the road.
Against Georgia, they were more aggressive. Led by Shabazz Muhammad’s 21 points and his hustling on the court, the Bruins didn’t wilt against the Bulldogs when the game was close.
Yet it also showed how the offense struggles when it’s not him or Jordan Adams scoring. Adams had his worst shooting night of the season – four points – and if not for Muhammad picking up the slack, the Bruins might have lost. For now, the Bruins’ offense will go as far as Muhammad or Adams carries them against stronger teams. They have to work on being stronger defensively.
I still think USC’s much improved from last year and UCLA’s going to contend for the Pac-12 title. Yet both teams got a reminder that they have a lot of work to do before they reach those lofty goals.