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Is it Time for Trojan Fans to Panic?

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by Joe King, from Pyle of List.

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No, this isn't about Pete Carroll returning to the NFL. That would definitely be time to panic, maybe even call the National Guard...if they're back from Iraq yet. This is about the first USC-UCLA game of the college basketball season. This is important people. Both teams played well in last year's NCAA tournament. Both teams had high expectations before the season started. Both teams had blue-chip freshman that were expected to make an impact. Only one team has lived up to expectations…UCLA.

The Men of Troy have been disappointing since their opening season loss to Mercer(?!), which is in Macon, Georgia, if you didn't know. (I had to look that up.) USC got the fans interested by winning the inaugural Anaheim Classic in late November and playing tough against top-5 teams Kansas and Memphis. But ever since then, they've been in a tailspin. OJ Mayo gets his points, but he makes too many poor decisions with the ball. He has 15 more turnovers than assists so far this season. Davon Jefferson, another freshman, plays well around the rim and at the charity stripe. But as a friend of mine argued at a bar before the USC-Wazzu game, he can't go to the NBA next year without a jump shot.

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(Side note: Some guy in the bar with slick hair and a suit overheard our Davon conversation. He looked a little put off by our comments and then said to us, "Davon's not playing tonight." When we asked how he knew that, he said, "I live with his mom." I don't want to start any rumors, but this guy had "agent" written all over him. Maybe he's not an agent, but I'm definitely wary of people in suits close to USC athletes after this whole Reggie Bush scandal.) Daniel Hackett is not the same so far. He was a bulldog last year who threw Kevin "Naismith Award Winner" Durant off his game in the tournament. I had high hopes for him this year, but he has yet to find his rhythm since Pac10 play started (he's 0-8 for three pointers in conference games).

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Meanwhile UCLA has been steamrolling through their schedule. Kevin Love is all he was expected to be, averaging nearly 17 points and 10 rebounds per game. Darren Collison is back from injury and doing Speed Racer-type things again. Ben Howland is true to form with efficient offense and hard-nosed defense. And Lorenzo Mata is still as ugly as homemade sin. It's everything we've come to expect from Westwood High over the last few seasons.

Trojan fans are hoping that tomorrow night at Pauley Pavilion USC can change its season. If I could come up with a more intense word than crucial I would. Ooohh oooh. This game is über-crucial. (See what I did there? Yeah, you see it.) Anyway, if USC doesn't win this game I predict an unrecoverable death-spiral for the team this year ending in an NIT invitation. If they do win, they've still got a big hole to dig themselves out of. But they'll have one of those nice, shiny, big-game victories the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee likes to see. This game is much more important in the grand scheme for the Trojans than it is for the Bruins. UCLA can lose this game and be just fine. So maybe a sense of urgency will suddenly lead to good decision-making from OJ Mayo…I hope. If UCLA prevails, at least I know my team isn't as awkward around the ladies as Lorenzo Mata. Afraid to make contact.

The game is tomorrow at 12:30 pm on CBS. Fight on Trojans!

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Photos:
Sports Illustrated cover and AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill.