I do not hide nor deny the fact that I am an incredibly biased USC basketball fan. I love the program and have always believed in the Men of Troy, even when our roster and coaching was mediocre at best (which it was during the entirety of my time at USC, 2009-2013). I have been known to place a bet or two on the pre-season Trojans to hoist the trophy at the end of the year, so far to no avail. Pre-shutdown last year, I believed that the Jonah Mathews/Onyeka Okongwu Trojans were poised to make a deep run in the Tournament, and came into this season with even higher expectations. I had seen film of Evan Mobley and was fully expecting the Freshman to single-handedly carry this team to greatness.
It became clear very early on, that this USC team veered from my expectations, they had experience (albeit not necessarily with the Trojans), talent and a cohesiveness that could only have been forged in the unique Covid atmosphere that this season required. USCs dream season will continue after the Trojans soundly defeated Oregon 82-68 in the Sweet Sixteen.
For all of the fanfare and attention that Evan Mobley receives, it was the "other Trojans" who came up huge for Andy Enfield and the Trojans. Oregon came out with a purpose, which led to 5 quick points from Forward Eugene Omoruyi. Conversely, USC came out flat and had several uninspired possessions in its first few trips down Court. The Trojans played a good deal of isolation basketball against a strong defensive backcourt, and it yielded no results. Once USC settled in and started to move the ball, the offense started to click and the points soon followed. No player was bigger for the Trojans than Isaiah White. White, who also had a big game against Kansas in the round of 32, had 12 first half points and added 2 three pointers to help the Trojans take a 15 point lead into the half. USCs defense was also superb in the first half, holding Oregon to 30% shooting from the field and just 25% from beyond the arc. The Trojans went on a 12-0 run during the a 4 minute stretch of the first half, and the lead ballooned out to 12 points. It was clear that Dana Altman had game planned to pressure Tahj Eaddy beyond the three point line (after all Eaddy torched the Ducks with 6 threes in the last meeting), but they had not planned for Eaddy's dribble-drive game to be as effective. Eaddy was able to slice through the Oregon defense with ease, and finish at the rim without much contest. Eaddy also had 12 points at the break as the Trojans shot an outstanding 58% from the field.
Oregon has been a feisty team all year long, and everyone watching the game knew that a 15-point halftime deficit would not deter their roster. USC took Oregon's best shot in the second half, and despite an inspired effort from Omoruyi and Chris Duarte the Trojans never let the lead get below nine points. Omoruyi led Oregon with 28 points, and Duarte added 21, but no other Duck eclipsed 8 points. Starters LJ Figueroa and Will Richardson combined for 9 points on 4-20 shooting, and the Trojans were able to contest seemingly every jump shot from outside. Just one game removed from an 11-25 three point performance against Iowa, the Ducks converted just 5-21 shots from distance.
Eaddy and White led the offense again in the second half, White went a perfect 4-4 and finished the game with a team high 22 points. Eaddy added eight more in the second half, to bring his total to 20. Both Mobleys reached double digits again, Isaiah had a physical 13 points and Evan a quiet 10. Evan only took 6 shots, but was highly effective in the passing game. Evan led the team with 6 assists, and was instrumental in beating the Oregon defense. As we predicted, Oregon crashed and swarmed Evan nearly every time he touched the ball, Evan was decisive and immediately looked to pass to an open teammate, and he was highly successful. We have gushed about Evan's team-first mentality all year, and tonight it paid major dividends. Evan is one of the rare players who can affect a game in many ways that would never show up on in a box score. It is our belief that he is the greatest player to ever wear the Cardinal and Gold. He will have an opportunity to cement his legacy on Tuesday, but more on that later.
All in all, this contest was never really in question, as the Trojans took control of the game in the first half and never let the Ducks back in. The Trojan zone has been highly effective and almost poetic at times. USC remains undefeated in games where at least 3 Trojans reach double digits, and tonight they had 4. Also of note, USC converted 10-12 FTs, for one of their best performances from the line all year.
Coach Enfield was publicly confused/annoyed when Oregon was crowned Pac-12 regular season champion, despite playing one fewer game than the Trojans. I would guess that Andy and the team exacted perfect revenge tonight in sending the Ducks home. USC defeated Oregon by 14 points in both meetings this year.
USC will advance to its first Elite 8 since 2001. The Trojans will matchup with undefeated #1 seed Gonzaga. We will have a full preview available before Tuesday's game, and it should be a doozy. Gonzaga is outstanding on film and on paper, and the Trojans will need to play their best game of the year if they are to beat the Zags and advance to the Final Four.
Lastly, how about the Pac-12. With Oregon State's victory yesterday, and UCLAs OT win against Alabama, the Conference of Champions will send 3 teams to the Elite 8. No other conference has more than 1 team remaining, and the disrespected PAC has earned some brownie points moving forward. The Beavers will face off with Houston tomorrow afternoon, and the Bruins will have a date with Michigan on Tuesday.
Survive and Advance! Get ready, Tuesday should be a blast!