By Rich Ruben
Washington led for a good portion of the first half until the Trojans used their size on both ends to close the half on an 18-4 run on the way to a 69-54 win on Thursday night.
USC led 41-31 at the break and completely shut down the Huskies in the second half. The Trojans scored 46 points in the paint, many coming on dunks and other shots near the rim. USC head coach Andy Enfield described his offense this season as inside-first and added that “when the guards make shots we’re awfully good.”
In this game they didn’t need much from the perimeter.
The Trojans did not make a three-point shot until until Tahj Eaddy hit an open three with 3:18 left in the game. The Trojans finished 1-7 from beyond the arc. SC didn’t need to go outside the paint very often to score over the smaller and overmatched Huskies who continue to suffer through a very tough season.
The game didn’t start out low-scoring; the Huskies led 10-7 at the four minute timeout. Husky star point guard Quade Green was very hot and made 6-8 shots in the first half for 14 points and kept the Huskies close. Enfield described Green as “an exceptional offensive player. He is very quick and can shoot”, and, Enfield added, Green made a few very difficult shots. He scored only two more points in the second half as the Trojans used their size against him. Green finished with 16 points and the Trojan defense forced him into 7 turnovers.
The Trojans are now 16-3 and 10-2 in PAC 12 play and have won eleven of their last twelve games, the only loss by two at Oregon State. The national media and analysts have taken notice and USC has been moving up in everyone’s brackets.
The Huskies Surprised The Trojans Early By Playing Man Defense
Mike Hopkins is known for his zone defense but it has not worked with this roster and UW opened the game by playing man. The Trojans looked out of sync for the first 10-12 minutes; the defensive switch may have accounted for the Trojans’ slow start. The Huskies switched defenses and played some zone but couldn’t control USC inside regardless of the defense. At the half USC had 24 rebounds, including ten on the offensive end while UW had a total of nine.
After they settled down, the Trojans shot the ball well. They finished 28-57 from the floor and had 41 boards, including 13 on offense. As usual USC struggled from the foul line making only 12-20 but they played defense without fouling and the Huskies didn’t get to the line in the first half and only shot seven free throws in the game.
The Inside Offense Was Special
On a night when the guards didn’t make a lot of shots, the bigs dominated. Isaiah Mobley almost had a double double at the half and secured it with 1:40 gone in the second half. He finished 5-10 from the floor and 2-6 from the line for 12 points and 12 boards including 7 at the offensive end. He helped keep the Trojans close early and helped key the run closing the half. Evan did most of his scoring after the break. He finished with 17 points on 8-11 from the floor and 1-3 from the line. He was credited with three blocks but it appeared he got a piece of two more and his presence forced the Huskies into several other bad shots. Evan added 3 assists and 7 boards.
Though neither Isaiah White or Chevez Goodwin were big factors in the second half they both were huge in the first. Isaiah finished with 9 points on 4-6 from the floor, mostly inside, and grabbed three rebounds at each end. Chevez also had 9 points at the break in only nine minutes. He finished with 11 making 5-9 shots and his only free throw. Enfield said that they both played great games. He added that “Chevez is a true low post scorer and can score with either hand. He is a very tough young man and provides huge energy from the bench.”
Different Players Step Up In Every Game
The guards struggled to score in this game but were able to get the ball inside. Tahj scored 10 points but made only three of his ten shots. Drew Peterson made a couple of second half shots and finished with 6 points and Ethan Anderson played 22 minutes and missed all three of his shots and finished 2-3 from the line
Enfield believes that this team is more talented offensively than last year. “We’ve been streaky on offense.” In most games Evan and Tahj provide offense and “different players also step up… The ball was sticking a little bit in the first half and we were not hitting open teammates. Once we shared the ball and got good spacing we were much better.” He added that they didn’t get the ball to Evan a couple of times when he moved off screens against smaller guards.
The Defense Was Solid
Thanks to Green, the Huskies finished the first half making 14-31 shots including 3-12 from three. They struggled more in the second half and finished 22-54 (41%) and 5-22 (23%) from three. The Trojans out rebounded UW by 17 and by 9 on the offensive end.
Enfield said that defense sets this team apart from his other Trojan teams. He has said several times that this year’s team is better defensively than last season and the 2019-2020 team was a very good defensive team. He thought that his team played very solid defense against UW in the final thirty minutes.
Enfield added that Isaiah Mobley is playing much tougher inside defense and has become one of the best interior defenders in the league.
Isaiah Mobley And Free Throws
Enfield said that Isaiah is much better from the line in practice and sometimes makes ten in a row and that “he has good form. He needs to carry it into the games.”
The mental part can sometimes be more important than form. Enfield added that Isaiah works very hard on free throws and that he understands that most of his misses are long. They will work on his form after the season.
WSU beat UCLA 81-73 in Pullman Thursday night and the Trojans have a one game lead as they head to Pullman for a Saturday matchup. It would have been a major upset for the Huskies to beat the Trojans. The Cougars are a better team and it will be tougher to come home with a second win. One big difference between the two top teams in the conference is that the Trojans are 5-1 in away games and the Bruins are now only 3-4.
Isaac Bonton is the key for the Cougars. If the Trojans can limit his scoring or force him to take a lot of shots for his points USC will be in good shape. The coaches will undoubtedly use the UCLA loss to stress that any team can win any conference game especially at home and the players must be focused on Saturday. It’s hard for long suffering USC fans not to look ahead and the temptation for 18-20 year olds must also be there. The Trojans remain in position for this to be a special season both in the conference and into the NCAA Tournament but a bad loss in Pullman would stop their great month long momentum.