No. 4 USC Men Bring Bruins To Troy For Pac-10 Finale

April 13, 2010

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The No. 4 USC men can wrap up the regular season and claim sole possession of the Pac-10 crown with one last win this week. Standing in the way of an undefeated conference finish for the Trojans is crosstown rival and stubborn Pac-10 power UCLA. The Bruins have beaten the Trojans in their Pac-10 clash for the past five seasons, but USC has picked up two wins over UCLA already this year. This week's Pac-10 finale has No. 4 USC (19-2, 5-0 Pac-10) hosting No. 12 UCLA (13-6, 3-2) at 3 p.m. on Friday (April 16) at Marks Stadium.

A USC win on Friday would keep the Trojans perfect in Pac-10 play for the rights to the outright conference title, while a loss would likely put USC in a tie for the crown, as Stanford enters the week with just one Pac-10 loss. The Cardinal's lone loss was to USC, but the conference championship is determined by record alone, so the Trojans have the power to claim exclusive rights to the 2010 title with a victory over UCLA on Friday. UCLA was USC's barrier to a perfect Pac-10 finish in the past three seasons, although USC wound up as the 2008 conference champions after an ineligible UCLA player turned two Bruin wins to forfeits in that year. That gave USC a 7-0 mark in 2008 Pac-10 action to take the title. Besides the 2008 championship, USC last won the Pac-10 crown in 2004 with a 6-1 finish to share the title. USC last won the Pac-10 title outright in 1994 with a 9-1 mark. In total, USC is in the Pac-10 history books with 30 team championships -- shared and solo combined -- with this 2010 title standing as the Trojans' 31st conference crown dating back to 1934.

The latest Campbell/ITA national team rankings (released April 13) have defending NCAA champ USC ranked No. 4 in the nation after the Trojans' first loss slipped them out of the No. 1 spot at which they opened the year. The latest individual rankings also were released April 13. There, Steve Johnson has been edged out as the nation's leader, ranked #2 now in singles. Senior Robert Farah is back in the top-10 now at #7, with three other Trojans settled in the rankings: #88 Daniel Nguyen, #100 Jaak Poldma and #125 Peter Lucassen. In doubles, four Trojan teams are in the rankings. With #5 Farah/Johnson in the lead, also ranked are the pairings of #58 McNaughton/Nguyen, #61 Nguyen/Sundling and #65 Johnson/Nguyen.

USC rolled to its sixth straight win with a clean sweep of host Arizona last week. The Trojans secured at least a share of the Pac-10 team title the 7-0 sweep of the No. 35 Wildcats, winning down the line with three doubles victories and a string of singles wins. Clinching things from his No. 1 singles slot was #15 Robert Farah, whose 6-2, 7-5 win over #90 Andres Arango got the Trojans up 4-0 in the match.

UCLA is ranked No. 12 in the nation and is 13-6 overall and 3-2 in Pac-10 play after taking a surprise upset loss to Arizona last week in a 4-3 Wildcat win. UCLA has four players ranked in singles: #52 Haythem Abid, #55 Matt Brooklyn, #56 Nick Meister and #97 Amit Inbar. In doubles, UCLA has #19 Inbar/Meister and #62 Abid/Meister. USC is 82-98 all-time against UCLA after snapping a six-match losing streak to the Bruins in posting a 4-0 win and a 6-1 win over UCLA earlier this season. UCLA beat USC 4-3 and 5-2 last year.

USC recorded its first back-to-back wins against crosstown rival UCLA since 1991 with the Trojans' 6-1 win over the Bruins on March 3 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. USC had claimed a 4-0 win over UCLA earlier this year at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, and the second look at UCLA was a similarly decisive victory for the Trojans. USC captured the doubles point and then worked ahead with the clincher coming from Matt Kecki to make it a 4-1 USC lead from his No. 6 singles slot. This week's match vs. the Bruins represents USC's third look at UCLA this season. The last time USC pieced together three consecutive wins over UCLA was when the Trojans followed up back-to-back wins in 1991 with a 5-4 victory in the teams' first meeting of 1992. And the last time USC faced and beat UCLA three times in the same season was in 1987 -- also the last time USC posted an outright undefeated finish (9-0) in Pac-10 play.

It's been a team effort for the Trojans in working their way to within reach of the 2010 Pac-10 Championship. The USC men have claimed five Pac-10 Player of the Week awards so far this season, giving the Trojans the lead for all-time selections with a grand total of 15. This year, four different Trojans have won the weekly honor -- two for Daniel Nguyen and one apiece for Jaak Poldma, Steve Johnson and Jason McNaughton. This season's selections have been the first of each Trojans' career. McNaughton's selection is the latest to go on the USC tally after the senior came through with a powerful straight-set win over #7 Stanford's Greg Hirshman -- handing the Cardinal player his first loss of the season at the No. 6 singles position - to take USC ahead 3-1 as the remaining three matches all went into tense three-setters last week. His win also helped secure him a spot in the lineup for the following day against #17 California. There, McNaughton was slotted at No. 5, and the senior captured another win by handing a rare dual-match loss to Riki McLachlan to round out USC's 6-1 win over the Bears. In limited time this season due to early-season injury, McNaughton has now won his past five singles matches.

Steve Johnson was ranked #1 from January until March 2 when he moved to #3 for one rankings cycle. During that stretch, the sophomore earned his first career Pac-10 Player of the Week honor, beating UCLA's Holden Seguso and Wake Forest's #20 Tripper Carleton. After doing so, Johnson moved back to #1 and remained there until this week's slip to #2. Johnson was displaced this week by Tennessee's JP Smith, whom Johnson beat in the fall. He now holds a 25-4 overall singles record and a 14-3 mark in dual-match play.

The No. 1 singles slot has been shared by Steve Johnson and Robert Farah to the tune of a 19-2 combined record in that position. Robert Farah holds court with a 12-1 mark on top, falling only in a three-setter to then-#5 Dimitar Kutrovsky of Texas. Now ranked #7 in the nation, the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year currently boasts a 24-5 overall singles record with a 16-2 mark in dual-match play.

Daniel Nguyen has built up a nice 11-match singles winning streak as he rolls into this week's action. Along the way, Nguyen snagged his first career Pac-10 Player of the Week honors -- two of them -- after bigtime singles and doubles play in USC's first win over Stanford and then later after a powerful road trip through Duke and Georgia. Nguyen is now ranked #88 in the nation in singles and holds a 29-5 overall record and 15-1 mark in dual-match play. He leads the team in singles wins, just ahead of Steve Johnson's 25 victories and Robert Farah's 24 to date. Jaak Poldma also recently joined the 20-win club that Nguyen is on the brink of busting out of with win number 30 on the horizon.

A new member of the 20-win club this season, Jaak Poldma was the first to start the trend of Trojan Pac-10 Player of the Week honorees. At the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, Poldma tallied wins across the board, getting two singles and doubles wins and leading in both his suspended matches. Poldma stayed flawless in dual-match singles play from the No. 3 position, beating Kellen Damico of Texas and #118 Nick Meister of UCLA both in straight sets. His singles wins put him on a six-match overall win streak. Poldma also stretched to a six-match win streak in doubles with Peter Lucassen with that weekend's success, including an 8-6 upset of UCLA's #36 Brooklyn/Stewart. Poldma now ranks #100 in singles with a 21-6 overall record in singles with a 14-3 mark in dual-match play. Poldma and Lucassen are 14-3 together in doubles -- all in dual-match action.

USC's doubles strength has been key this season. Although pairings have been shuffling during dual-match play, the Trojans have won the doubles point in all but two matches this year. Those two lost doubles points both wound up as USC's only two losses to date -- vs. Texas and at Duke. With the majority of time at the top slot, the #8-ranked duo of Robert Farah and Steve Johnson hold a 10-1 record at No. 1, where USC is 15-5 overall. Daniel Nguyen has been a power partner at the No. 2 slot, most recently teaming up with JT Sundling there for a 5-0 mark, and also pairing with Jason McNaughton for a 3-2 mark, and with Johnson for a 4-0 record. The No. 3 spot has been largely comprised of Peter Lucassen and Jaak Poldma, who opened the year with a 10-0 record in that position and are now 14-3 together in dual-match doubles.

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