Deandre Ayton treated the USC bigs like they were his little brothers Saturday night, dominating them on the basketball court with sheer force, leading Arizona to a 75-61 win and earning the Wildcats the Pac-12 Championship.
USC played great defense for 3/4 of the game, and was even leading at halftime, but Ayton proved to be too much to contain, finishing with 32 points and 18 rebounds. At the end of the day, the Trojans shot 26% from three and 50% from the free throw line, two areas they needed to succeed in if they wanted to compete with the Wildcats.
Deandre Ayton is a 'Monstar'
Ayton is as physically imposing of a player as the Pac-12 has seen in a long time, and he absolutely killed the Trojans on Saturday night. Whether it was scream-inducing alley-oops or fadeaway jumpers over two defenders, Ayton could hardly do any wrong. The future top-3 NBA draft pick showed why he's being talked about as a player who can make an immediate impact in the league.
USC did not want to guard Ayton one-on-one, which resulted in them playing zone the entirety of the game. This resulted in Ayton, as well as Dusan Ristic, feasting on the offensive glass, leading to a 13-4 second-chance point advantage for Arizona. It's not unreasonable to ask if Ayton is the most dominant big man the conference has seen this century.
Jordan McLaughlin is an All-Timer
The senior captain played in his final Pac-12 game Saturday night, finishing with 12 points, nine assists, and only two turnovers. He was sensational as he's been all season and for most of his USC career. Because he doesn't put up eye-popping scoring numbers, sometimes it feels like McLaughlin flies under the radar.
He is undeniably one of the best players in the history of the program. By the time his career is over, McLaughlin will finish in the top-4 in USC history in points scored, top-5 in threes made, top-2 in assists, and top-3 in steals. Not only that, he, along with Coach Andy Enfield, defined this area of Trojan basketball renaissance.
USC basketball will likely be bad next year. Losing McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Chimezie Metu, and De'Anthony Melton at a minimum is tough to overcome. But with the way Nick Rakocevic and Jonah Matthews played this tournament, Trojan fans can stay optimistic. In their freshman seasons last year, both players showed promise at times but were wildly inconsistent and made more than their share of freshman mistakes.
But in their sophomore campaigns, both players grew dramatically, and they showed out in the Pac-12 Tournament. Matthews has turned into a really strong two-way guard and has shown signs of playmaking ability late this season that weren't there before. Rakocevic still has hands of stone but his touch around the rim is much-improved and he's becoming a smarter defender by the day. They will be asked to lead the team next season, and are expected to make big contributions in the NCAA Tournament, if USC does receive the bid they are expecting.