Contrary to popular belief amongst my readers, friends and family, I did not think that this USC team was going to go undefeated. There is a good reason that no team has managed the feat since 1976, mainly it’s very hard to win every game in a 30+ game season. All it takes is one off night, and perfection can be kissed goodbye. I knew we would drop a game, but I admit I did not believe it would be Tuesday afternoon in Palo Alto.
The Trojans suffered their first defeat of the season falling 75-69 to the Cardinal, in a back and forth game that never felt as if USC wanted to take control. Give Stanford credit, they played their best game of the season, while the inconsistency from the Free Throw line finally did Andy Enfield’s team in. Stanford was led by freshman star, Harrison Ingram and Spencer Jones who each had 21 points. Ingram was the best player on the floor, and looked poised (save a momentarily lapse in judgement which resulted in a technical foul) and allowed the game to come to him. He showed a beautiful shooting stroke and made 3-5 three pointers and 6-7 from the line. Jones also made three 3-pointers and used his athleticism to convert some tricky shots around the rim. In the end Stanford received meaningful contributions from typical role players (Brandon Angel, Noah Taitz and James Keefe, who combined for 22 points) while USC struggled to make plays down the stretch.
The Trojans were once again the aggressors, taking the game inside and drawing early fouls from Stanford. The Trojan front court has been consistent for the majority of the season, and USC once again received solid and efficient outings from Isaiah Mobley, Chevez Goodwin and Joshua Morgan. Mobley led the group with 16 points, but only took 5 shots (4 of which were from 3). The 5 field goal attempts line is a bit misleading as Mobley’s aggressiveness inside earned him 9 free throw attempts throughout the course of the game, and he made 7!
Goodwin dealt with early foul trouble and only played 21 minutes. Chevez still managed to reach double figures, tallying 11 points on 5-8 shooting. Goodwin has developed a beautiful touch on his left handed hook shot, which is almost impossible to defend since he has such a quick trigger on it.
Joshua Morgan also played well in his 19 minutes, an added 7 points and 4 blocks inside for the Men of Troy. The more meaningful minutes Morgan receives the better off USC will be next year, but he is clearly a defensive juggernaut, and has developed a role in this offense. While the majority of his attempts are at the rim, there have been flashes of touch and accuracy from 6-10 feet.
Unfortunately, the bad and the ugly far outweighed the positives from this game.
Free Throw Shooting
We had been optimistic following the Cal game that USC had fixed its FT shooting woes, for the time being it looks as though Cal was the exception. The Trojans went 21-32 from the line, missed the front end of 1 and 1 attempts about half a dozen times, and ultimately blew an opportunity to seal this win. USC was in the bonus for 15 minutes in the second half, yet the inability to convert and capitalize on an overly aggressive defense cost the Trojans perfection. As we mentioned above, Mobley was respectable from the line, but 3-6 from Peterson, 4-6 from Ellis and 0-2 from Anderson are not acceptable. The Guards need to be able to step up to the line and convert. Missing 11 FTs in a 6 point loss highlights the importance of the line, and USC needs to shut down any “Hack-a-Trojan” strategy by improving.
USC has been outstanding on the offensive glass this season, averaging 11 per game. However, a disciplined Stanford team limited USC to just 4 offensive rebounds and just 4 second chance points. USC needs to find a way to set up transition defense while also giving a meaningful effort to the offensive glass. Peterson, Agbonkpolo, and the other wings should be able to crash the offensive boards without sacrificing any semblance of transition rebounding.
USC’s offensive went stagnant for large portions of the second half. Any time USC seemed prepared to take the control of the game, Stanford would make a few shots, USC would panic and take the first available shot on the next trip down the Court. Boogie Ellis, Ethan Anderson and Agbonkpolo were the worst offenders in Tuesday’s game. Ellis had a good first half, scoring 10 points and finally looked comfortable from deep, but in the second half, he played too fast, out of control and forced many inside shots. Ellis finished 4-11 from the field, and had a team high 4 turnovers. Boogie is such a weapon when he stays within his comfort zone, if he feels like he needs to score every point, USC can fall into bouts of stagnation, which is neither productive nor fun.
Anderson had an off night, he tried to do too much, and USC suffered because of it. The Trojans need Anderson to be a leader on the court, but we do not necessarily need him to score 10 points in every game. EA, is a great defender and passer, but he needs to pull it back out on transition every once in a while and let the offensive recalibrate. A missed shot does not inherently mean fast break.
Shot selection is as much about who is taking shots as it is who is not taking shots. Drew Peterson only took 3 shots and Isaiah Mobley took 5. Neither is acceptable. Mobley should be in double digit attempts every game, and while the fouls make this number misleading, he was terrific in the second half and the offense should have been run through him on every single possession. Peterson has an ability to score in droves if he chooses to do so. On a night where the offense is searching for more, Peterson needs to be willing to assert himself on offense and look for his own shot.
There are a lot of takeaways from this game, hopefully USC will benefit from the loss, and approach tonight’s game with some anger and determination to show that Tuesday was a fluke. Andy should have the team ready to go, and tonight’s game now becomes the most important of the season. How do the Trojans bounce back from an unfamiliar position? There will be no fans at the Galen Center tonight, but I am hopeful that USC responds well and gives a good effort.
Oregon State Preview
Oregon State made an improbable run from the Pac-12 Tournament all the way to the Elite 8 in last year’s March Madness tournament. This is not that team. Wayne Tinkle has struggled to recapture the magic of last March, and the Beavers enter tonight’s game 3-11. Among others, OSU has lost games to Samford, Princeton and UC Davis, the Beavers are coming off a tough Civil War loss to Oregon on Monday.
Oregon State has relied on the duo of Jarod Lucas and Warith Alatishe for the majority of its scoring. Lucas is a 6’4” Guard from Los Angeles, who is averaging 13.4 points per game. Lucas actually played on Eric Mobley’s Compton Magic team, and is close friends with Isaiah Mobley, Ethan Anderson and Max Agbonkpolo. Lucas is by far the most dangerous scorer for the Beavs, and USC will need to limit his effectiveness from 3. Lucas is shooting 38% from 3, and this is after an 0-8 performance against Oregon earlier this week. Like Enfield does against most capable scorers, USC will shuttle fresh legs in and make Lucas uncomfortable from outside.
Alatishe is a walking highlight reel, and probably the best dunker in the conference. The 6’8” Forward is a quick leaper and insanely athletic. Alatishe is currently averaging a shade of 12 points per game, and leads OSU in rebounds at 6.5 per game. Almost all of his attempts are from within the key, and he will challenge the USC front court on both ends. Alatishe is a very good defender and has great length, and he is simply a fun player to watch. He is also very active on the offensive glass, and he will take advantage over any coverage lapses from USC. Alatishe will most likely match up with Isaiah Mobley, and it will be a fascinating matchup, Isaiah will have a 2 inch and 40 pound advantage but Alatishe’s athleticism should make up the difference.
Rounding out the starting 5 for Coach Tinkle are typically Dexter Akanno, Dashawn Davis and Roman Silva. Davis is the primary facilitator for OSU, an averages 5 assists per game and 9 points. Davis does most of his offensive damage in transition, and is not a real threat to hit from deep, but USC will need to find him in space, and prevent him from attacking the mid-range. Davis is a transfer from Trinity Valley CC in New York, and is experienced and comfortable with the ball in his hands. He has reached double figures in 5 of his last 5 for the Beavers. Silva is another Southern California product, standing 7’1” and 265 pounds. Chevez Goodwin and Joshua Morgan will have their hands full, although Silva tires easily and usually averages just 15 minutes per game.
All in all, if USC can slow down Lucas and Alatishe, this should be a good bounce back game for the 13-1 Trojans.
The one and only question for this game is how do the Trojans respond after suffering their first loss of the season? Oregon State is the ideal bounce back game, and I expect the Trojans to take out some frustration on the lowly Beavers. Things will be much tougher here on out, and USC needs to attack each game with laser focus. The Trojans are their best when they play unselfish basketball, and attack with a balanced front. In order to achieve this the starters need to play in unison, and the Trojans need to play tough defense. If Isaiah White is healthy, Andy needs to reintroduce him to meaningful minutes, White provides the type of energy and grit that can kick this team into gear.
I think USC answers Enfield’s call, and comes out and delivers a complete game, USC takes care of business and wins this one by 17+. Boogie Ellis will have his hands full on defense, but I think the Junior Guard is due for a big game.