By Rich Ruben
The Trojans played from behind almost the entire game yet had several opportunities to pull out what would have been a very good win. USC had four assists in the entire game and made only 3-19 (15.8%) from three. Coach Enfield said that his team played zone most of the game because Ethan Anderson is the team’s best perimeter defender and without him they lacked depth in the backcourt. He also thought Tajh Eaddy and Drew Peterson wore down and the zone helped conserve their energy. In the second half the Trojan zone was very effective holding UConn to only 8 made shots.
The Trojans missed many opportunities to take a lead late in the game and missed 3 three point shots in their last possession, any of which would have tied the game. Instead USC goes home with a 61-58 loss and wishing some late shots would have found the bottom of the net. The flight home would have felt much shorter if they found a way to win and come home 4-0.
UConn led 39-34 at the half after the Trojans trimmed the lead from 11 in the last couple of minutes. In the second half the Huskies got out quickly and built the lead to 13. The Trojans only scored 24 in the second half and that wasn’t enough no matter how well the defense played. The Trojans closed to within 4 at the 10:30 mark and from that point on the lead bounced from two to six. USC never tied the game in the second half. The Huskies played harder and seemed to want the win more than the Trojans. They out rebounded the Trojans by 11 and by 6 on the offensive boards. In the first three games combined the Trojans had a 49 rebound advantage. Too often after a missed UConn shot the Huskies crashed the boards and rebounded over flat footed Trojans.
USC didn’t start in a zone, but played exclusively zone from the middle of the first half on. Enfield said that the zone was soft early but “I thought the zone was excellent in the second half.” It appeared he switched to zone because Trojan guards Tajh Eaddy, Noah Baumann and Drew Peterson were not as quick as the Huskies and to conserve the energy of his guards.It was successful and he stuck with it. Enfield first employed the zone when Eaddy went out for the first time and Baumann replaced him.
UConn was a slight favorite coming into the game though the Huskies had played only two games against lower tier teams. Coming off the blowout of BYU the Trojans had a lot of confidence. Both teams started quickly on offense. Evan Mobley and Drew Peterson scored the first 11 Trojan points. Against USC’s early man to man defense Husky guards made open threes when the Trojan defenders played under high screens. UConn made 6-12 from three in the first half.
This Trojan Team Would Have Had Big Backcourt Problems If Drew Peterson Was Not Eligible
Imagine what this team would have looked like without Drew and in this game with Ethan out with back spasms. The team would have been seriously outmanned without Drew even in many games when Ethan played. Drew has shown he is a difference maker.
Without Drew and Ethan, Tajh Eaddy would have been the only guard who could handle the ball. Isaiah White would have been forced to play more guard and Noah Baumann would be on the floor for a lot of minutes in every game. UConn employed a soft full court press throughout the game which appeared to be designed to wear out the Trojan guards and take time off the shot clock more than to create turnovers.
Many fans have called for Enfield to make Tajh the starting point guard and insert Isaiah White into the starting lineup instead of Ethan. They got their wish in this game. Tajh finished with one assist and made 2-8 shots and 1-5 from three. Isaiah White missed all four of his shots and did not score. These two grad transfers have already been big for the Trojans and will be all season, but Ethan is the only point guard on the team. When either Tajh or Drew was out of this game the Trojans played with one ball handler. If Ethan had played the Trojans would have won.
Baumann and Agbonkpolo Were Big Contributors
Other fans have wondered why Noah was recruited or plays at all. In this game he played 24 minutes and made 4-8 shots for 9 points, tying Drew Peterson for second second leading scorer. Max finished with 7 points on 2-6 from the field. He showed his athleticism in the zone and played well defensively.
Evan Mobley Was By Far The Best Trojan But He Didn’t Get The Ball Enough Inside
UConn double teamed Evan most of the game. He got the ball inside early and again in the last ten minutes but not very much in between. His touches in the middle of the game were mostly outside. For the game Evan made 4-10 shots and 9-11 free throws. He also had 7 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 of the team’s 4 assists. He seems to play so effortlessly that he doesn’t get credit for some of his great plays. Still, the coaches can use this game to show him how much harder he can play. Smaller Huskies grabbed a few rebounds that Evan could have had and he was a little slow on defensive rotations a few times in the zone.
Isaiah Mobley And Drew Peterson Had Uneven Games
Isaiah had foul trouble and missed valuable time on the bench. Drew started the game on fire but stopped looking for his shots after the first ten minutes and finished with 9 points. He did not have an assist even though he played with the ball much of the first half.
The Trojans Played Great Defense But Struggled On Offense
USC finished 19-53 from the field and 3-19 from three. On the bright side, they uncharacteristically stayed in the game from the free throw line sinking 17-21. These numbers are almost a complete reversal from the BYU game.
The defense held a good shooting UConn team to 34.5% from the field and after a good first half from three, the Huskies finished at 36%. The defense played well enough to win. Over one nine plus minute stretch in the second half UConn missed 13 of 14 shots. They made only 8 baskets in the second half.
Although the Trojans lost a game they could and should have won, they also found a few things. Noah can play at this level and he is by far the Trojans best outside threat. His confidence level should go way up. In the zone he was not a defensive liability. Max can be a big contributor for this team. He can score from outside, has a quick first step on his drive, and at 6’9” is athletic enough to rebound, block some shots and defend. This game should also allow the coaches to push the players; the Huskies played harder than the Trojans.
Finally, Enfield said that these two games were a great experience for the team. They played two good opponents and the venue’s safety precautions were top notch.