After a Covid breakout forced the Trojans to shut down for nearly 3 weeks, USC finally returned to the Court on Thursday for a conference showdown with upstart Cal. Fortunately, the 7th ranked Trojans showed little signs of rust and secured a 77-63 victory in Berkley.
With the win, USC improves to 13-0 and 3-0 in conference play. At the time of writing, USC and #1 Baylor are the only undefeated teams remaining in college basketball (Colorado State lost to San Diego State on Saturday to end the Rams’ quest for perfection). The Trojans delivered a patented, Andy Enfield-approved performance, a victory highlighted by an efficient offense, balanced scoring and tough defense.
There was a lot to like in this game, over a tough Cal team. I think the Golden Bears will pick up some surprise wins in conference, and all teams should beware especially when traveling to Haas Pavilion.
It has been well documented that over the past 2 years, USC is undefeated in games where 3 or more players reach double figures in scoring, and this game was no exception. 4 of the Trojan starters reached double figures, with all of them shooting at or above 50%. Isaiah Mobley led all Trojan scorers with 19 points on 6-12 shooting. There is no doubt about it, if USC needs a bucket, Mobley gets the ball. Isaiah’s versatility on the offensive end makes him a matchup nightmare, and his sustained success from the three point line (he was 2-3 on Thursday) requires any defense to account for his accuracy from deep.
Speaking of mismatches, Drew Peterson was able to put his own stamp on this game, adding 17 points of his own. Drew’s size and unorthodox shot selection make him nearly impossible to stop for smaller players. If Drew is able to get to his spot on the floor, he can simply elevate over any guard and find the bottom of the net. Drew was 8-14 in this game from the field, and continues to be a major factor in the success of the 2021-2022 Trojan team. If Peterson is converting, this team is very, very tough.
It was fantastic to see Boogie Ellis attacking the rim again. The Junior Guard has had an up and down season so far, but he was unstoppable for large stretches of this game. With his quickness and athleticism, Ellis does not need a ton of room to separate from defenders. One step or an on-ball screen and Boogie can and does get to the rim. Ellis added 14 points for the Trojans on 5-9 shooting, and Cal simply had no answer for Boogie. Once he regathers his confidence from 3, watch out. Ellis knows that he can get to the basket, and the key for him is not forcing shots, if he is able to let the game come to him, USC has a certified playmaker on the outside.
Rounding out the Trojan scoring leaders was Chevez Goodwin, who chipped in 12 points of his own. Continuing the trend of efficiency, Chevez was 6-9 from the field, and once again was there on the offensive glass for a couple of put back scores. Side note, on his career, Goodwin just eclipsed the 1,000 point mark, which is a huge accomplishment for the fan favorite. Chevez is not greedy, takes what he is given, and uses his experience and wide array of post moves to score. The Trojan starters accounted for 64 of the 77 total points.
A team that lives and dies on the three pointer is a dangerous one. All it takes is one off night, and you can get run out of the gym. On Thursday, USC made a concerted effort to take the ball inside, and showcase how power, strength and good offense can result in easy scores.
USC was only 4-10 from deep, and was just 1-6 in the first half. The Trojans scored 50 points in the paint. It is expected that Goodwin and Mobley will get close looks, but Ellis, Peterson and co, took the game inside and it paid huge dividends. The long game will always be there and a 40% clip will always work, but the ability for this team to shift its focus to the key was impressive and will require opponents to game plan for an all-out inside assault. It was fantastic to watch, and was akin to a power football team running the ball up the middle, and a defense having no chance but to give up 6-7 yards each play. This offense can be anything it decides to be, and it is that ability to adapt and shift that makes this team so compelling.
Free Throw Shooting
I admit, I never thought I would talk about our FT shooting in “The Good” portion of these recaps, but here I am! USC made (drum roll please) …11 of 13 attempts on Thursday and it was amazing. Maybe the Trojans used some of the time off and forced isolation to work on FT shooting, and if that was the case, I am here for it! Ellis was 4-4, Mobley 5-7 and White 2-2. Outstanding!
The Return of Isaiah White
Isaiah White was a big part of the Trojans’ Elite 8 run last year, starting nearly every game for the duration of the season. The 2021-2022 campaign for White has looked very different. Isaiah has only started two games and has been slowed down by an injury. If Thursday’s game was any indication, Isaiah is feeling better and ready to get back into the rotation. While White only played 10 minutes, his presence was felt on both ends of the court vs. Cal. White had a beautiful steal and breakaway dunk, a pair of rebounds and a beautiful assist in transition to Peterson. He is as tough a defender as the Trojans have, and increased minutes for Isaiah are only going to make this team better, and more physical on defense.
There was not much to critique in this game, especially when you factor in the long break. The Trojans had some unforced turnovers, mainly in transition when we were trying to attack too aggressively, but these are mistakes that will happen in the course of the game. In total, USC had just 9 turnovers, but made up the lost possessions with 10 offensive rebounds.
USC was in control of this game but Cal managed to stick around for a good portion of it. In past years, this may have been a game that slipped away towards the end, where say a 12 point lead evaporates to 5 and poor free throw shooting allows an opponent to sneak back in. This team did not allow that to happen, but there are stretches (it happened against EKU as well) where a 15 point lead quickly becomes 8, and Andy is forced to put starters back in. USC needs to maintain the killer mentality and finish games with an exclamation point. This is a bit nitpicky, we won by 14, and the game was never really in jeopardy, but the entire roster (not just the starters) needs to develop this instinct to go for the jugular, and put games out of reach for good.
The Trojans played a clean solid game, there were not major areas of concern in this one! Mark Fox has built a good team at Cal, and they are going to surprise some teams this year, but the Trojans escaped without much concern, and we move into a 3-game week with Stanford and the Oregon schools.
The Trojans are 13-0 and will most likely move up to #5 after Kansas and Duke both lost on Saturday. An undefeated record and a top 5 ranking are incredible feats, there are obviously some major showdowns on the horizon, but this team seems comfortable going one game at a time, and Andy’s game-planning has been excellent!
Beat the Farm!