Washington Huskies (15-12, 4-11) at USC Trojans (10-18, 2-14), Sat Feb. 28th, 7:30pm, Pac-12 Networks.
Only a few days removed from an exciting, last-minute win in Pullman, whatever energy that remained was once again drained from the team by a demoralizing loss in Westwood. The absence of Shawn Kemp Jr. certainly contributed, given Washington's critical lack of depth in the front court, but it's hard to argue that his presence alone would have turned a 20+ point loss into a victory.
With only three games remaining, we have reached the point in the season when fans either circle the wagons and call for one more year for Romar to coach his top-10 recruiting class, or join the chorus of dissenters who refuse to believe one class of freshman can transform this team into a true competitor in a single season.
Meanwhile, the Trojans are the only team in the conference that has undeniably fared worse than Washington. USC has won a single contest out of the last 13. That was at home vs. Oregon State back on Valentine's Day. The program has been a cellar-dweller for several years now, and even in LA this game may represent Washington's best chance at another Pac-12 win before season's end.
Probable Starting Five: G Julian Jacobs (So., 6-4, 180), G Malik Marquetti (Fr., 6-6, 180), G Elijah Stewart (Fr., 6-5, 180), F Malik Martin (Fr., 6-11, 220), F Nikola Jovanovic (So., 6-11, 230).
Key Bench Players: G Katin Reinhardt (So., 6-5, 205), Kahlil Dukes (So., 6-0, 170), F Darion Clark (So., 6-7, 220).
The Trojans are ridiculously young, even by the standards of this particular age of college basketball. No one who figures to play significant minutes is older than a redshirt sophomore, and three starters are true freshmen.
Strangely, both of the team's top two scorers will not be in the starting five. Reinhardt, who averages 12.1 points on atrocious 36% shooting, figures to be the first man off the bench. Jordan McLaughlin, USC's starting point guard for most of the season, was shut down for the year earlier this week as a result of a shoulder injury.
Nikola Jovanovic is probably the best player on the team. He chips in 12 points and 7 rebounds on an average night, and he is well-conditioned enough to go a solid 30 minutes. Malik Martin, another 6-11 post, has had a modest impact in about 15 minutes per night.
It is now being reported that Kemp is unlikely to play, meaning Jovanovic and Martin will have a prime opportunity to exploit Washington's weakness down low, especially on the boards. If they can manage to get Jarreau in foul trouble (which is...not difficult), we will see more Dorsey/Gilles pairings at the four and five, plus stretches of five guards. Nobody wants to see that.
Washington does seem to have a clear advantage in the backcourt. Jacobs is a promising young player (he dished 9 assists with zero turnovers in this week's loss to WSU), and he has the size to match up with Williams-Goss, but it's fair to say that Washington's point guard is the better all around player.
Marquetti and Stewart both average fewer than 5.0 points and hit fewer than 40% of their shots. Their value will have to come on the defensive end, where stopping Andrew Andrews must be a priority.
Andrews, often the source of much criticism, has been scoring at very high level since Upshaw's departure and figures to be Washington's only real chance at a respectable offensive output.
On paper the Huskies might look the better team if Kemp were in the lineup. However, he won't be, and the team that took the court without him against UCLA looked just about finished. Even during the recent losing streak, the problem was execution and talent, not necessarily effort. That no longer appeared to be the case.
A team struggling to this extent cannot afford to lose one of two healthy big men, and it cannot afford questionable effort. I cannot give them the benefit of the doubt on the road so quickly on the heals of that clunker. Not even against USC.
USC 71, Washington 63