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.