An instant classic took place at Pauley Pavilion Saturday Afternoon, as USC edged out its crosstown rivals for a 64-63 Victory. Tahj Eaddy hit a leaning 3-point shot from the corner with 1.4 seconds left to give USC it's only lead of the game. In a sequence that closely resembled the 2020 season finale, in which Jonah Mathews sank a 3 with 1 second left, the Trojans were able to complete the season sweet for the second consecutive year.
With the win the Trojans now have an opportunity to win the conference championship, depending on the outcome of the Oregon vs. Oregon State game, which takes place Sunday at 5:00pm. If Oregon State can pull off the upset (the Beavers defeated the Ducks by 11 in late January), the Trojans will take the number 1 seed into next week's conference tournament. If Oregon holds rank, the Trojans will be the 2-seed.
USC was outplayed for the majority of today's game, as a balanced and highly effective UCLA offense gave the Bruins an 11-point lead at the half. Even without leading scoring Johnny Juzang, who sat out due to an ankle injury, UCLA was able to impose its will against a statistically stout USC defense. Wings Jaime Jaquez and Jules Bernard got UCLA going with a bevy of early buckets allowing UCLA to jump out to a 13-point lead halfway through the 1st half. Jaquez finished with 8 1st half points and was aided largely by Guard David Singleton who contributed 9 bench points of his own. The 25 first half points from USC was its lowest 1st half output of the season.
The Trojans were able to do enough to stay close throughout the first half, despite sloppy play. USC was without energy spark Isaiah White, who sat out with back spasms, but were rewarded with tremendous play from Center Chevez Goodwin. Goodwin finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 assist, and was a frequent force on the offensive glass. Aside from Goodwin, it was a 3 man show in the second half as USC chased down its rival. The trio of Evan Mobley, Drew Peterson and Tahj Eaddy contributed 35 of USCs 64 total points, 24 of which came in the second half.
Down 8 with 4 minutes to go, it was Peterson who came up with a couple of big buckets for USC, hitting 2 long balls in a 70 second span to make it a 1-point game. After going 0-6 from 3 in the first half the Trojans converted on 4 of 10 in the second half, which proved to be just enough for the teams 21st win of the year.
Mobley was quietly productive finishing with yet another double-double adding 13 points and 11 rebounds. On the defensive end he continues to impress adding another 3 blocks and 1 steal. UCLA was prepared for the lengthy Freshman, and devoted at least 2 players to making him uncomfortable nearly every time he touched the ball in the paint. Showing a bit of his future potential, Mobley hit a pair of mid-range jump shots in the second half which opened up opportunities for his teammates.
In what has become a signature characteristic of the 2021 Trojans, USC only allowed 2 points over the final 5:06, and put the clamps down on the defensive end of the Court. For months insiders have debated about who the Trojans give the ball to when they need a bucket in late game situations. Earlier in the year, we saw Peterson falter against Oregon State, but we were given an opportunity to get inside Coach Enfield's head today. With 55 seconds remaining and down by 3, Enfield drew up a play to Evan Mobley. Rather than move inside, Mobley settled for a 3-point attempt which was off target. After Jules Bernard missed the front end of a 1 and 1 Free Throw, Enfield had a second opportunity to design his play, and setup the final sequence.
After failing to inbound the ball for 4.9999999 seconds, Ethan Anderson found an off-balanced Eaddy in the corner of the court. Tahj was able to square his shoulders as he drifted right to left and drained the shot. Jules Bernard's desperation heave was off target and the Trojans left Pauley Pavilion with another come from behind win.
The Trojans season will continue in Las Vegas for the Pac12 Tournament. If USC enters as the 1 seed, they will face the winner of Arizona State and Washington State. If Oregon wins tomorrow and USC enters as the 2 seed, they will face the winner of Utah and Washington. While counterintuitive to the rankings, I think I would actually rather be the lower seed and play Washington/Utah. I am aware that Utah beat us handily last week, but at level altitude and coming off a big week, the Trojans should be in good shape either way.
What a game, and what a win!