Lost in the shuffle a bit between the terrific play of Nick Young and Taj Gibson has been the emergence of Gabe Pruitt as a legitimate point guard for USC. Pruitt did an excellent job helping his team building up a big lead on North Carolina in the first 28 minutes of the game, but like all of his teammates, could not pick up the slack once the Tar Heel locomotive got rolling with 12 minutes to go.
In terms of the point guard battle, it wouldnt be a stretch to say that Pruitt outplayed the more highly regarded Ty Lawson for the most part tonight. He got torched by his first step on a number of occasions like almost everyone who tries to stay in front of him does, but countered by giving him a bit of his own medicine as well thanks to his own terrific ball-handling skills and quickness. Pruitt is a very flashy guy in terms of type of moves he can execute with the ball in his hands, but he also has a nice array of fakes and hesitation moves he can go to to open up the defense and find teammates on the drive and dish.
Pruitt did a very solid job running USCs half-court offense tonight, particularly with the way he executed on the pick and roll with Taj Gibson and Nick Young. He delivered crisp, unselfish passes to his teammates exactly where they wanted the ball, but unfortunately the Trojans could not knock down their shots in the 2nd half to finish off the game. Pruitt played a part in that as well, going 1-6 from behind the 3-point line and getting too passive down the stretch when his team needed him most. Fatigue seemed to play an issue here.
Beyond being well on his way to making a successful transformation from the shooting guard position to the lead guard role, Pruitt has also made some big strides defensively under Tim Floyd. Texas D.J. Augustin would surely agree with that statement after the way he was shut down in the 2nd round, and Pruitt made a number of big plays against the Tar Heels as well. Two terrific steals on UNC in-bounds plays after a Trojan made basket were the highlights here, showing outstanding anticipation and smarts to go along with his excellent wingspan and quickness.
Pruitt is far from a finished product at this point, still needing to improve his ability to control tempo and become more aggressive at slashing to the rim and getting to the free throw line. His shot selection could also stand to improve, and hes not quite as consistent as youd hope on a game to game basis. Pruitt is expected to test the waters this year and will get his share of looks in the late first round due to his upside, but in our estimation, hed be well served to use his senior year to continue to develop his all-around game.