If USC Can Find Its Earlier Form, CBS’ Gary Parrish Believes They Could Make A Run In NCAA Tournament: ‘We Know What This Team Is Capable Of’

(CBS Los Angeles)- The final weekend of college basketball’s regular season is here, and CBS has a Los Angeles rivalry battle on tap as the USC Trojans visit the UCLA Bruins in the Pac-12 conference regular season finale on Saturday afternoon. The Trojans dominated the Bruins, 66-48, in the first meeting at the Gallen Center and are looking for a season sweep. College Basketball on CBS analyst Gary Parrish points to how the Bruins handle Trojans star Evan Mobley as the key to whether they’ll be able to avoid the season sweep.

“UCLA did a pretty decent job, all things considered, on Evan Mobley in that first game. He only had nine points got six field goal attempts,” Parrish said in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “Obviously that wasn’t a recipe for success, because they still lost the game by 18. But I do think everything starts with keeping him under control when USC’s on offense, and then on defense making sure he’s not too disruptive. You have to be aware of where he is at all times, the reason that defense is so good starts with him.”

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The Trojans defense ranks among the nation’s elite, checking in at 15 in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency ratings. Not only that, they’re in the top 30 in offensive efficiency. So this is a tough matchup for UCLA, especially considering the loss of senior guard Chris Smith in early January to a torn ACL.

“Every conversation about UCLA has to start with the fact that they lost their best player after eight games. The fact that Mick has been able to hold this thing together as well as he has all things considered, is pretty impressive. Losing your best player is hard. If you add him back into this roster, everything is different,” Parrish said.

But, the Bruins can certainly make Saturday competitive if they’re just able to find their normal shooting stroke against the Trojans. The first time the two met, UCLA shot just 3-19 from three, a 15.8% clip that’s well below their 36.9% mark for the season. If they’re able to get closer to that season-average clip and do the same type of defensive job they did on Mobley in the first outing, they could certainly pull out the win at home.

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Regardless of what happens tomorrow, both teams appear to be headed for the NCAA Tournament in just a few weeks. For USC, there’s an opportunity to make a real run in the tournament if, as Parrish says, they can just find their form from a few weeks ago.

“There was a time not too long ago when I was looking at USC and talking about them as a legitimate Final Four contender. They’re now projected as more of a seven seed. In terms of what you want to see, just get back to playing the way you were when you won seven straight games,” Parrish said. “We know what’s capable from this team, we don’t have to wonder about how good they can be, we’ve seen them be good. They need to spend this weekend and this week getting back to what they were in January, because what they were in January was, I think, one of the best teams in the country.”

“They have a coach who has done it before, not at USC but at Florida Gulf Coast, so he knows what it looks like to march through a bracket to make the second weekend. And they have an undeniable future lottery pick in Evan Mobley who has lived up to all expectations, perhaps exceeded them,” Parrish continued. “You’re talking about a 7-footer who is awesome around the rim, and awesome rim protector but can also step away from the basket and knock down perimeter jumpers. He is exactly what you look for when you are looking for a modern-day big in the NBA.”

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Tune in Saturday, March 6 as USC and UCLA wrap up their Pac-12 regular seasons with a crosstown battle on CBS tip-off set for 4 p.m. ET.