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No. 10 USC aims to use size at Vanderbilt

No. 10 USC hits the road for the first time this season, traveling to Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn., to face Vanderbilt on Sunday.

The Trojans (2-0) cruised in their season opener against Cal State Fullerton, but needed a late-game surge to hold off pesky North Dakota State 75-65 on Monday. The upset bug that nearly bit USC caught Vanderbilt (2-1) that same night in a 69-60 loss to Belmont.

The Commodores avoided a repeat Friday, holding off UNC Asheville 79-76. Senior forward Jeff Roberson's third double-double in as many games led Vanderbilt to victory.

"His focus at practice, especially the last two weeks, has been the best that we've seen from him and I think it's showing in his play," Vanderbilt second-year coach Bryce Drew said following Friday's win.

Roberson goes head-to-head with a USC frontcourt featuring junior forwards Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright. Metu and Boatwright have played excellent individual games on the young season, with Boatwright coming off a career-high 28 points with eight rebounds against North Dakota State, and Metu recording a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds against Cal State Fullerton.

The frontcourt duo leads USC in points and rebounds through two games, and senior guard Jordan McLaughlin is not far behind at 12 points and seven boards per game, with a team-high five assists.

"(McLaughlin) keeps us composed and ready to go," Boatwright said.

This Pac-12 vs. SEC matchup could turn into a defensive struggle. The Commodores rank No. 43 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com metrics, and USC No. 15. Vanderbilt ranked in the Top 40 nationally in this category a season ago.

USC introduced more 2/3 zone into its defensive repertoire early into the season. Head coach Andy Enfield said making the switch from man-to-man in the second half against North Dakota State proved pivotal, as the zone took advantage of USC's size.

The Trojans will have a distinct edge once again against Vanderbilt. Of the Commodores' top five scorers, no one is taller than 6-foot-7 junior guard Joe Toye. Roberson, averaging team-highs of 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, goes 6-6.

"With us being a little undersized and having to play small at times, a lot of rebounding falls on him," Commodores senior guard Riley LaChance said in the press conference after Friday's win. LaChance is adding 13.3 points through three games.

USC must continue to attack the interior on offense, which it did successfully in the second half against North Dakota State. Boatwright, typically an excellent 3-point shooter -- he made 47 from behind the arc last season, eight more than his total of 2-point field goals -- demonstrated a more aggressive attacking style.

"I credit it a lot to the coaching staff and my teammates, helping me get in the gym and work on my all-around game; not just being a 3-point shooter," Boatwright said. "Coach (Jason) Hart preaches that to me all the time, and I'm thankful for that."

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