The good news: the Trojans are moving on to the Pac-12 Tournament semi-finals after defeating Utah 91-85 in Double Overtime Thursday Night.
The bad news: The Trojans were forced to play 50 minutes of competitive basketball in order to secure the win.
With the victory, USC improves to 22-6, while Utah's season will end sub-.500 at 12-13 overall. The game noticeably lacked rhythm and pace, as 54 personal fouls were called throughout the contest, none bigger than an offensive foul of USC C Evan Mobley with 13:19 remaining in the first half. The charge was the younger Mobley's second personal foul, and he was forced to sit for the remainder of the 1st half. In his absence, USC was able to expand it's lead and take a 34-29 lead into the break.
In the 1st half, the Trojans utilized a balanced scoring attack, with Isaiah White leading the way with 9 first half points in his return. Isaiah Mobley added 7 of his own, and Drew Peterson, Tahj Eaddy and Ethan Anderson all scored 4. Isaiah White was also a key cog in the Trojans game plan, and held Utah star Timmy Allen to just 4 first half points.
The 2nd half began...and so did Evan Mobley's night. After tallying just 2 points in his limited 1st half, the Conference Player of the Year was a force on both sides of the court. Mobley finished with a career high 26 points, and added 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. Mobley was very efficient from the FT line converted 11 of his 14 attempts. This blog had written about Mobley's timid performances in the previous games vs. Utah, and it was encouraging to watch him become more aggressive and either convert or get fouled.
Despite Mobley's huge game, USC was unable to pull away from the Utes in the 2nd half. After a pair of 3s from Tahj Eaddy and Isaiah Mobley (who went 2-2 from deep), extended the Trojans lead to 10, Utah was able to claw back in thanks to a steady supply of Timmy Allen, Alfonso Plummer and Ian Martinez. The 3 Utes combined for 58 points, and made big shots when Utah Coach Larry Krystkowiak needed them. Utah's regular season record was not an accurate representation of their talent, this was a well-coached team that played hard. USC was lucky to escape with the victory tonight.
After a see-saw 2nd half, USC had opportunities to ice the game in the closing minutes from the Free Throw line. After converting its first 11 of the night, USCs Achilles heel reared its ugly head. With 14 seconds remaining and the Trojans up 2, Ethan Anderson went to line to try and ice the game...he missed both attempts. Ian Martinez was fouled on the other end, and made both FTs to send the game into its first OT. USC would finish 29-39 from the charity stripe, converting just 18 of the final 28 attempts. If this team is going to succeed in March, they will need to improve from the line, and at least determine who the "go-to-guy" is late in games. Eaddy leads the team in FT% at 78% with Peterson and Mobley as the only others over 70%. Evan should always be an option as he has the ability to elevate higher than virtually any other player in the country, a simple jump ball should garner possession.
Mobley dominated in the overtime period adding 13 points and 2 crucial blocks. The defense came up huge towards the end of the game and forced a few turnovers to effectively end the game. Also worth noting, all 5 Trojan starters achieved double figures, with Isaiah Mobley adding 11, Peterson 13, Isaiah White 14 and Eaddy 13. USC is now 19-0 in games in which 3 players reach double figures.
USC will play at 8:30pm tonight vs. division rival and bugaboo Colorado. USC has not played back-to-back games this year, and fatigue will certainly be a factor in tonight's game. 3 Trojans logged over 40 minutes in last night's game, and one has to remain hopeful that the mutual disdain between Colorado and USC will fuel the Trojans tonight. Colorado moves into the semi-finals after defeating Cal 61-58 last night. It is also worth noting that due to the 2OT of an already delayed USC game, Colorado's game did not end until about 11:30pm. Colorado is being asked to play 2 games in less than 24 hours, which is a potential advantage for USC.
I mentioned the budding rivalry between the Trojans and the Buffalos, and it starts right at the top. There is no love lost between Coach Andy Enfield and Colorado Head Coach Tad Boyle. The conflict arose due to comments Boyle made about USC in the midst of the pay-for-play scandal that led to the season long suspension of De'Anthony Melton back in 2018. Boyle was asked if he team took extra satisfaction in beating then top team Arizona and responded by stating that he had great respect for Arizona Coach Sean Miller, and then took the extra step of invoking USC's name with a thinly veiled jab at Enfield, the implication that it was no mere coincidence that USC and Arizona both had recruited well in recent years.
Coach Enfield has maintained that his program did nothing wrong, and the actions of Tony Bland were isolated and unknown from the team. For what it's worth, De'Anthony Melton has also maintained his innocence since 2018. There have been some tense confrontations during post-game handshakes, and it is clear that these two simply do not like each other.
Boyle has had Enfield's number the past few seasons, as Colorado now owns a 6-game winning streak against the Trojans. In the two meetings this year, the 23rd ranked Buffalos beat beat USC by 10 and 18 points respectively. For the Trojans to be successful they will have to find a way to slow down 3 time All-Conference PG McKinley Wright IV. Wright's name is plastered all throughout the Colorado record books, and he is looking to cap a tremendous career with a solid post-season.
Aside from Wright, low-post bruiser Evan Battey and wings Jeriah Horne and D'Shawn Schwartz contribute for the Buffalos. Statistically they are the best defensive team in the conference, allowing only 63 points per game. USC will need to move the ball to find good looks, and I expect Ethan Anderson to see increased minutes with his ability to drive.
Tahj Eaddy will most likely get the first opportunity to guard Wright, and Ethan will be able to keep a physical presence on the Senior Guard. The Mobley brothers will be tasked with slowing down Battey inside. After a game riddled with foul trouble (and limited minutes because of it), look for Chevez Goodwin to bring increased energy as the Trojans try to impose their will inside.
This game is a toss-up, and it may simply come down to how fatigued the players are. USC has a deeper roster, and is capable of keeping fresh legs in the game. We spoke yesterday of the redemption tour for USC, and I am sure the team was hoping to have another shot at Colorado. From a mental standpoint, a win like this would be massive as the team moves towards the NCAA Tournament. ESPN recently named Colorado one of 8 teams that they believe can win the Championship. Let's see if USC can change some minds!
I like the Trojans (shocker) in a close game, 71-68.