Andy Enfield

Southern California's Katin Reinhardt, left, has his shot blocked by Oregon's Chris Boucher during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)
AP Photo/Chris Pietsch

Elgin Cook, Oregon take care of No. 21 USC

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Entering Thursday road teams had a record of 10-22 in Pac-12 play this season, so it goes without saying that even with the balance getting wins away from home has been very difficult. That trend continued in Eugene, as No. 21 USC played its first game as a ranked team since the 2008-09 season and lost 89-81 at Oregon.

For the Trojans this game was another step in the growth process Andy Enfield’s program is still going through, even with their hot start to conference play. Picking up wins as a surprise team is much different than doing so as a team with a target on its back, and against Oregon the Trojans were unable to string together the stops needed to make a run in the second half.

Oregon, which may not have the depth it envisioned before the season began thanks to the loss of Dylan Ennis for the remainder of the season, still has a host of options capable of putting points on the board. Elgin Cook, one of the Pac-12’s most versatile players, proved especially difficult to slow down as he accounted for 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 9-for-12 from the foul line.

The senior forward led four Ducks in double figures, and against the USC defense Oregon was able to get into the paint on numerous occasions throughout (43 points in the paint).

The defense will likely be the biggest takeaway from this defeat for USC, which entered the game as one of the conference’s better defensive units to this point in conference play. Even with Bennie Boatwright going for 23 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out and Julian Jacobs adding 18 and five assists, the Trojans showed their youth down the stretch with some questionable decision-making (Jacobs’ technical foul hurt as well).

They’ll get better, and in time USC will have the experience necessary to win games of this magnitude on the road. If anything this result says more about an Oregon team that finally has its rotation set in stone. Dana Altman has a host of options to call upon on the perimeter and in the post, and the presence of interchangeable pieces such as Cook and Dwayne Benjamin makes this group appear deeper than the number of bodies would lead one to believe.

In a conference race that’s wide open now and will likely be throughout the remainder of the season, Oregon strengthened its case as a Pac-12 contender while also bringing USC back to the pack.

Wild quadruple OT victory another step forward for USC

Southern California guard Julian Jacobs (12) battles over Arizona guard Allonzo Trier (11), guard Kadeem Allen, bottom center and center Kaleb Tarczewski, bottom right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Los Angeles. Southern California won it in a fourth overtime 103-101. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Associated Press

Just six days ago USC experienced the roller coaster of emotions many rebuilding programs deal with as they look to transform into a winner. After building a 22-point second half lead at Washington the Trojans faltered down the stretch, losing by two in a game they should have been able to close out. Saturday night Andy Enfield’s team responded after blowing a second half lead to No. 7 Arizona, going toe-to-toe with the Wildcats and eventually winning 103-101 in a quadruple overtime thriller.

The Arizona team that USC beat isn’t as strong as the prior two editions that dominated the Pac-12 and reached the Elite Eight in both seasons. But as the standard bearer in the Pac-12, the Wildcats represent a significant hurdle for a young team looking to make the climb up the conference pecking order. And thanks to a host of contributors, USC managed to get over the disappointment of not closing the game out in regulation.

Not only did USC pick up a win that shows that they may have some staying power in a wide-open (and deep) conference race, but it’s also a sign that Enfield’s rebuilding job is headed in the right direction.

Elijah Stewart scored 27 points, the final two coming on a pair of free throws with 22.3 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime to provide the final margin, and he was one of five Trojans to score in double figures. USC shot just 43 percent from the field but they were able to take advantage of Arizona’s ball-screen defense on many occasions, and their 26-11 edge in points from the foul line made up for the field goal percentage.

USC’s still a work in progress, with two point guards in Julian Jacobs and Jordan McLaughlin who can both attack defenses but also have some issues when it comes to choosing their spots. Add in multiple perimeter options including Stewart and a front court anchored by junior Nikola Jovanovic and freshmen Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, and there’s no lack for talent at USC.

Entering the season USC had the look of a group that was “one year away,” with the lack of success overriding the young talent Enfield and his staff managed to add to the program. But with the Pac-12 being what it currently is, a league made up of a lot of good teams but no “elite” squad ready to run off with the league title, why can’t “next year” be now for USC?

Given the lack of success in recent years, it’s understandable if some aren’t be ready to fully buy into USC as a Pac-12 contender. But even with that being the case, there’s no denying the fact that Saturday’s win was an important step forward for a program looking make the climb up the Pac-12 pecking order.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press

With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.