Men’s basketball hosts Long Beach State University Wednesday night as the Trojans look to move to 5-2 on the season. USC is coming off a 90-75 win over Cal State Bakersfield on Sunday where it overcame the absence of guards redshirt junior Derryck Thornton and freshman Kevin Porter.
The Trojans have already faced injuries to key contributors, like senior forward Bennie Boatwright and freshman guard Elijah Weaver, which have made it difficult for the team to find an identity to start the season.
“[Boatwright is] a huge threat,” Weaver said. “As soon as they see Bennie step on the floor, they’re always going towards him heavily. Just having him on the court creates a lot of open lanes for people.”
Despite the injuries, USC has been one of the best offensive teams in the country so far, albeit against some below-average competition. Still, it’s encouraging that the Trojans are shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range, ranking No. 23 and No. 29 respectively.
“I think [shooting is] pretty natural within the game play,” Weaver said. “Our coach is just trying to get us to penetrate and kick. We just knock ‘em down.”
Long Beach State presents an interesting matchup, opening the season with a competitive 91-80 loss to UCLA, a team ranked as high as No. 17 this season. However, that effort looks less impressive now that the Bruins have dropped out of the rankings following bad losses to No. 11 North Carolina and No. 9 Michigan State in the last week.
Other than that, Long Beach State hasn’t been impressive, with only two wins and three losses by at least a 15-point margin. This is a game the Trojans should win easily if they can avoid the slow starts that have plagued their season thus far.
The 49ers only shoot 40 percent from the field, are average from behind the arc at 35.3 percent, and have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio of 86-to-123.
Long Beach State does average 10.9 offensive rebounds per game, a potential problem for a Trojan team that allows 12.2 offensive boards per contest. USC will need to hit the defensive glass to dominate this game the way it should.
“We’ve been working on it in practice, trying not to get in foul trouble and boxing out everytime,” sophomore forward Victor Uyaelunmo said. “I don’t really know how we’re going to stop [LBSU’s dribble penetration], but we just have to do a better job of playing defense and being the gap, being in the right position so we don’t get in foul trouble.”
Senior guard Deishaun Booker is the focal point of the 49er defense, as he leads the team in both scoring and assists. Booker is not a great outside shooter, but can get to the line and knock down free throws, averaging 7.1 attempts per game and making 94 percent of them.
Booker’s ability to break down a defense could be an issue for the Trojans, who struggled to contain penetration against Cal State Bakersfield. Quick guards who can get into the paint draw fouls on rotating defenders, and foul trouble has been problematic for USC in the early going.
“It’s our defense,” redshirt senior Shaqquan Aaron said. “Just got to lock down on the defense and play together as a team. When we play together as a team, we have fast starts, everyone’s running and playing good, locking down on the defense.”
The Trojans and 49ers tip off at Galen Center at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Alex Qiu contributed to this report.
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