Huge Challenge

Injuries might have a bigger impact on the rematch between No. 6 UCLA and Southern California than freshmen O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love.

Sunday's game at Galen Center could be the final college meeting between the heralded duo since many expect them to leave school early for the NBA draft.

USC (15-8, 6-5 Pac-10) will try for its first season sweep of the crosstown rival Bruins since 2003-04, coach Ben Howland's first season in Westwood.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made UCLA –4.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 91% of bets for this game have been placed on UCLA –4.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

Last month at UCLA, Mayo scored 16 points to Love's 18 points and 12 rebounds and the Trojans pulled off the upset 72-63, ending the Bruins' nine-game winning streak.

A win this time would keep UCLA (21-3, 9-2) in first place ahead of No. 7 Stanford, which fell out of a first-place tie after a loss at Arizona State on Thursday.

``It's a must-win game for us,'' Love said. ``We don't want to lose to SC twice in a row.''

Both the Trojans and Bruins are hurting with less than a month to go in the regular season.

USC will be without starting guard Daniel Hackett, whose season is in jeopardy because of a stress fracture in his lower back and a torn oblique muscle. He was averaging 9.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 30.5 minutes.

Hackett's absence leaves the Trojans without one of their best defensive rebounders and a key component of the triangle-and-2 offense that stymied UCLA last time.

``I don't know that it will be as effective without him in there,'' coach Tim Floyd said. ``He was maybe our most difficult matchup for UCLA.''

Without Hackett, the Trojans are down to three available scholarship guards: Mayo, freshman Angelo Johnson and sophomore Dwight Lewis, who had 11 points in the first game. Johnson likely will start in Hackett's place. He has made six starts, averaging 4.4 points and 2.0 rebounds.

Mayo strained his left groin in practice Wednesday, although he expected to play Sunday. He figured to bring the ball upcourt more than if Hackett was available.

``He did a great job keeping everyone involved and making the right plays,'' Mayo said. ``We're a man down, but it definitely won't be used as an excuse. We beat them once, right?''

Howland said Friday he was ``cautiously optimistic'' that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute would be back in the lineup Sunday.

The junior forward sustained a concussion in the first half of last month's USC loss and left early in the second half. Then a sprained left ankle caused him to miss last week's road trip against the Washington schools.

``Having Luc out has been really, really frustrating,'' Howland said. ``You take out one of your top five players, that impacts you in a big way.''

If Mbah a Moute can play, Howland planned to have him guard USC freshman Davon Jefferson, who had a career-high 25 points and nine rebounds in the Trojans' earlier win.

Both teams are coming off defeats. The Bruins had a five-game winning streak snapped in a 71-61 loss at Washington, while USC was blown out 74-50 at Washington State.

Last month, USC shot 61 percent from the field and held the Bruins to a season-low 33 percent.

``SC gave us trouble last time just because they picked us apart on defense,'' Love said. ``They just kept getting layups, kept getting dunks. I don't know if it was that we let up or we weren't as excited as we thought for the game.''

Love notched his 14th double-double in the Washington loss, but teams facing UCLA a second time have figured out how to defend him. The Huskies put two and three bodies on the 6-foot-10, 271-pounder.

``I'm just going to have to still get touches, but pass out of the double-team and find open defenders,'' he said. ``I need to pop out to the high post, 15, 17, 20 feet a little bit more so I can get touches, shoot some 3s, take it to the basket.''

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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