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USC Scoop Hoops Report: The Trojans Sweep The Desert Clean

January 9, 2021
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USC under Andy Enfield added a notch to their belt by sweeping the Arizona schools on the road for the first time since I was in high school, and Stan Morrison was coaching the 1984-85' Trojan team.

Before the game tipped off, the Trojans were 4-1 at home but winless in their five attempts playing in Tempe since Andy took over against ASU. The scoreboard can now be adjusted following USC's 73-64 win against ASU, completing the Desert Sweep. The Trojans(8-2, 3-1 Pac-12) have won three straight since dropping the conference home opener to Colorado.

When the game started, it looked as though the Trojans would have an easy time over the undermanned Sun Devils who were playing without four of their key contributors. ASU's point guard Remy Martin, the team's 2nd leading scorer, was joined by forward Taeshon Cherry and guard Jaelen House (COVID) and starting forward Jalen Graham (mono) were forced to watch from the stands when the Trojans took a 9-7 lead into the 14:25 media timeout on the heels of a Tahj Eaddy floater in the lane. While watching, they probably noticed, along with everyone else who is fortunate enough to have the PAC-12Network, the Trojans' length and athleticism was going to be a significant hurdle for the Sun Devils' remaining roster as USC jumped out to a 36-18 lead with a little over three minutes to play in the half.  

USC's defense was effective early while their offense was getting warmed up, and they would need to keep up the protection all game; ASU, up to this point, was shooting only 24% on the game, and the Trojans were outrebounding the Sun Devils, 26-12. Making matters worse for the Devils, USC is shooting 10-13 from the FT line, and ASU is only 1-6.

But nothing comes easy when these two teams meet, and by halftime, the Sun Devils had made it a 36-32 score. Enfield commented after the game, "We didn't play a perfect game, but this is college basketball.--This was a great college basketball game. I give them a lot of credit, they played hard and so did we and we're fortunate to win."

Coach Enfield is right. The Trojans did not play a perfect game; I’m not sure they played a “good game.  However, they did do enough to win the game and make the shots when it counted.  USC was just 3 of 22 from 3-point range on the game and had missed 14 consecutive from behind the arc till a late Drew Peterson corner-three gave the Trojans the separation they would need down the stretch while they made their FT's.  

The game would seesaw back and forth, even seeing the Sun Devils complete the 18-point comeback and eventually take the lead. USC was finally able to take a deep breath and give a sigh of relief when Evan Mobley found Peterson for the corner-3 as mentioned above, extending the Trojan's lead to 65-61 with under 2-minutes to play.

Peterson characterized the team's win as gritty. "We need games like this. "We need adversity. We need to be able to bounce back, and that's what we did." 

ASU gave the Trojans a taste of their own medicine after they fell behind by 18, using their quickness and full-court press to antagonize the Trojan's primary ball handlers, Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson.  After the game, I asked Enfield what the guys were seeing because they kept making the same mistakes with the [ASU]press--even coming out of timeouts.  And while Coach Enfield contends that they "only turned it over twice against their press," he and I will have to disagree that the team handled ASU’s press well overall.  

USC may have only had two turnovers due to the press; however, they turned it over ten times in the first half, and when they weren't turning it over, they looked rushed and frustrated on offense. And that's why they only held a 4 point halftime lead. For a team that utilizes the press on their own, the Trojans did not look like they were prepared for something they knew was coming entering the contest.  "just like football?"  The Trojans had 16 turnovers on the game and 13 assists as a team.  

In the 2nd half against Arizona, the Trojans shot a blistering 75% from the field. In the 2nd half of the game against the Sun Devils, the Trojans shot an equally cold 39%, and it was a struggle every step of the way, even with their significant size advantage in the paint. USC could not take advantage of their size scoring down low where they held a 32-16 advantage because they couldn't make a basket from behind the 3-point line.  Eaddy who was just 4-12 from the field was 8-9 from the charity stripe giving him 16 points to go with his 9 rebounds and 2 assists.  Isaiah Mobley and Peterson chipped in with 13 and 11 respectively.  Evan Mobley led the team with 19 points and he also added 6 blocks to go with his 13 rebounds performance; the Trojans had 12 blocks as a team, and their defense late is what helped them build their biggest lead of the second half to 8 points with a minute left to go in the game.  

Enfield said post-game, "Our defense stepped up when we went to the zone late in the game. We had trouble guarding them man-to-man because of the quickness of their guards. We're bigger and they're quicker, so we made some adjustments defensively and I thought that helped us gain the lead and extend it in the last few minutes." 

And that is a credit to this team and the coaching staff.  When the offense can't bring it every game, the effort on defense does show up every game.  With so many new players on the team and the adversity they've had developing chemistry with COVID and the absence of Ethan Anderson[back injury] directing the offense, they're finding ways to win games and grow as a team.  More post-game Enfield,"It's a big road swing to win two games on the road in Arizona -- we hadn't won at either place, we've lost a lot of close games here.--To win back-to-back games on the road in Arizona is a credit to our program and our players. They came out and played great against Arizona on both ends, and tonight we had our moments -- we didn't play a great game tonight, but we played well enough to win on the road.--In this league, you take any win on the road."

So yes, the Trojans were tested tonight. But let's wait to find out if they're better for it.  USC is a good team. However, great teams do not allow 18-point leads to disappear.-- Particularly against teams missing three of their best players. Ironically, what saved the Trojans cold-shooting on a night when they shot just 39% from the field, was the team making 26 of their 32 FT's. Meanwhile, ASU was held to only 34% shooting overall, and struggled from the line going just 15-24.  Enfield would reinforce his belief in the team after the game when he said, "That just shows our resilience. We're a defensive-minded team, and you have to win when you're not playing your best at times in this league.--It's a grind-it-out season, it's a long season and this was a long game. It felt like this game took about four hours just because of the intensity and the closeness of it in the second half.” ..."These are two good wins for us. It certainly doesn't get us in the tournament right now, but it's a great start."

Now, USC goes from having played no games for three weeks to completing a five-game stretch in 13 days, and they just added another game to the schedule. They are trying to make up for a lost time;-- Before the Trojans host the Washington schools next weekend starting on Thursday night, USC will host UC Riverside on Tuesday.

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USC Scoop Hoops Report: The Trojans Sweep The Desert Clean

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