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.