By Rich Ruben
USC was manhandled by the Washington Huskies 72-40 Sunday night in Seattle. My mother used to tell me that that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything. If I followed her approach, I would end here.
But I’ve decided to go on and address the game. SC had an opportunity to be the only Pac-12 team with a 2-0 record after the first weekend, but it was clear early that this was the Huskies’ night.
It would be hard to imagine a more complete beat down. The Huskies dominated every phase of the game, and it is difficult to find any positive in the Trojans’ performance. All of the worst problems which have shown themselves at times this season were present. The Trojans started very poorly and were able to get off only one shot which was not blocked in their first six possessions, most of which ended in turnovers. The Trojans also continued their recent trend of giving the ball away far too many times, and they continued their very poor outside shooting. They have now made only 3 shots from beyond the arc in the last two games, and the third came very late after both teams emptied their benches. The free throw shooting was also dreadful; as a team they finished under 50% from the line.
SC will return home with a 12-3 record at the mid point of the season, though two of the losses have been very one sided. They will have plenty of time to try to find some answers before their next game at UCLA on Saturday and a lot needs to be fixed before then. The Trojans appeared to be intimidated by the Huskies size and zone defense almost from the first tip. It will be surprising if many future opponents don’t employ at least some zone until the Trojans demonstrate they can effectively score against it. Making perimeter shots would be a huge help. SC never solved the Huskies’ very active zone, and never got into an offensive rhythm. To be fair, no other PAC 12 team plays zone defense as well as the Huskies, but I still expect to see a lot of zone, including at least part of the game on Saturday.
Andy was frustrated from the outset and removed Nick Rakocevic and Ethan Anderson very quickly after they each committed early turnovers. But no one from SC had a good game. Even reliable Onyeka Okongwu was outplayed by his 6’9” freshman opponent Isaiah Stewart, who showed a wider range of offensive shots., and a “motor” equal to Big O’s. As long as no one else was scoring, SC had trouble getting the ball inside to O.
Washington’s other 6’9” five star freshman Jaden McDaniels only scored 3 points against the Bruins Thursday night. Against the Trojans, he blocked 6 shots in the first half, and the Huskies as a team had not been blocking a lot of shots coming into this game.
For the night, SC made an unbelievably paltry 20% of their shots from the field. The futility might have been best exhibited when the Trojans brought the ball quickly up court with just under a minute and a half left in the game. Nick received a nice pass and drove down an open lane for a dunk, but he lost the ball on the way up and it barely hit the top of the backboard. Nick struggled throughout, but so did every one of his teammates. Drake London made his first appearance in the last 3 1/2 minutes, but was no more effective than his teammates
Nick and Isaiah Mobley had significant problems getting shots up inside. They both had several shots blocked, and they allowed the early defensive pressure to cause them to become gun shy as the game wore on. When they got the ball, they appeared to be worried about shot blockers and missed easy shots. Neither matched the intensity or toughness of the Washington front line. Isaiah seemed to let his problems inside impact his foul shooting. He missed five in a row at one point, all of them long and off the heel of the rim.
The starting guards, Jonah Mathews, Elijah Weaver, and Ethan, all struggled on offense. Ethan continued to be turnover plagued for a third straight game, and was not able to get the ball to his teammates in places they could score. He was so strong with the ball early in the season, but has not looked like the same player lately. Jonah and Elijah both played hard and made a couple of shots, but neither could find any consistency and each of the guards got lost on defense a few times leaving UW guards alone for uncontested shots. Daniel Utomi, Quinton Adlesh, and Max Agbonkpolo all tried to get the offense going, but none of the guards had a good night. Kyle Sturdivant provided a little spark in the first half with one field goal and four free throws, but he also struggled to move the ball to find the holes in the zone.
The Trojans trailed by 14 at the half, and there was still hope they could figure some things out during the break and make it a game, but that didn’t happen. Sunday night will be a very restless one in Seattle for everyone associated with the team. The flight home Monday morning will be more of the sane. By Sunday morning SC had climbed to number 50 in the NET rankings, but that ranking will undoubtedly fall.
The good news is that there are still 16 conference games left, this counts as only one loss and the Trojans will have a lot of opportunities for quality wins, and after the game in Westwood SC plays 9 of the last 15 at home. It is probably best if we all quickly put this game behind us, and look forward to a return to the winning ways exemplified by a 12-3 start to the season.