LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California's Nick Rakocevic is making a strong case to be regarded as one of the Pac-12's most improved players this season.
The junior center leads the conference with nine double-doubles and has three since the start of league play. He is averaging 15.8 points per game, which nearly doubles the 8.1 he averaged last season.
Going into Wednesday's game at conference leader Washington, Rakocevic is second in the Pac-12 in rebounds, averaging 9.8 per game. He is one of four players in the top 11 in both scoring and rebounding.
Arizona coach Sean Miller thought Rakocevic was one of the conference's most improved last year but has seen him take his game to another level this season.
"He's continued to develop," Miller said last week after Rakocevic tied a career-high with 27 points against the Wildcats. "He's a smart player. He has unbelievable hands going to the basket and can catch everything."
Rakocevic started to show toward the end of last season that he was developing into a better all-around player. He had 24 points and 19 rebounds in a win over UNC-Asheville in the opening round of the NIT.
That has carried over into this season. With six players missing a combined 40 games due to injury and another leaving the program at midseason, Rakocevic is one of only three players to have seen action in all 20 games.
"My teammates have done an unbelievable job of finding me in the post and on pick-and-rolls," Rakocevic said. "I've just been trying to stay consistent along with being aggressive on both offense and defense."
The 6-foot-11 Rakocevic came to USC with a reputation as a very good rebounder, but it is the rest of his game that has also developed. The Chicago native is averaging 3.1 offensive boards a game, which has helped lead to many second-chance points.
"I've always had natural talent for offensive rebounding, but it has helped create more second-chance opportunities for me and it can help me get back into the flow of the game when I've been struggling," he said. "If I can't grab the ball, I try tipping it and see where it goes."
USC coach Andy Enfield said Rakocevic's feel for the game and positioning on the floor have developed over the past couple seasons. Besides being among the league leaders in scoring and rebounding, Rakocevic is fourth in blocked shots and ninth in field goal percentage.
"He can manufacture points with his offensive rebounding, but he is sneaky in the low post and has a good touch around the basket," Enfield said.
The Trojans started 5-6 but have won seven of their last nine. USC (12-8, 5-2 Pac-12) is tied with Utah for second in the conference and goes into the game against Washington on a three-game winning streak.
With USC getting closer to being back at full strength for the first time this season, Rakocevic is hopeful the Trojans can make a late-season run.
"I think if we play like we have (the past couple weeks) it is going to be hard to beat us," he said. "Guys are getting more comfortable and knowing their roles along with what they have to do."
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