The undefeated USC Men’s Basketball team welcomes the Temple Owls into the Galen Center for a Friday night matchup. Currently, the Owls sit atop the American Athletic Conference and will be USC’s toughest test so far.
Following a 76-66 statement win at Nevada, USC took down the Pepperdine Waves 91-84 at home on Tuesday behind a big night from freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu. Okongwu scored a career-high 33 points to go along with five rebounds and two blocks.
The addition of Okongwu has proved to be one of USC’s best recruits in head coach Andy Enfield’s career. The Chino Hills High School graduate is averaging 18.2 points and three blocks through five games.
However, the Trojans have also relied on Okongwu’s fellow frontcourt starter, senior forward Nick Rakocevic. Rakocevic was named as last week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week after two strong performances. He scored 27 points and grabbed 16 rebounds against South Dakota State last Tuesday, while becoming the 42nd player in USC history to score 1,000 career points. The 6-foot-11-inch forward followed up his best performance of the year with another 20-point double-double, recording 24 points and 11 boards against Nevada.
Rakocevic’s performance in his last three contests prove why he was named to the Wooden Award Watch List at the beginning of the season. After fouling out after 15 minutes and scoring only four points against Florida A&M in the season opener, Rakocevic has bounced back, scoring double digit points in each of the last four games. The center even had his season-high six assists on Tuesday against Pepperdine.
Overall, the Trojans have shown improvement in major areas where they have struggled so far this season, with the most important being free-throw shooting. The charity stripe has been a nuisance for USC this year, as the team is shooting a below-average 65.1%. But they may have found their stroke against Pepperdine, making 28 of 34 attempts (82.4%) from the line.
Similarly, Enfield’s new rotation has three star forwards: Okongwu, Rakocevic and freshman Isaiah Mobley playing at a high level. After struggling to excel together in the first three games, Enfield shifted Mobley to a sixth-man role, in which he’s averaged 10.5 points on 18 minutes per game. Not only have Rakocevic and Okongwu posted great performances with one less forward on the floor, but senior guard Jonah Mathews showcased his scoring abilities in a new role.
With Temple set to make a cross-country trip to LA, Mathews, along with other starting guards freshman Ethan Anderson and sophomore Elijah Weaver need to step up on the defensive end. The starting backcourt for the Owls – seniors Quinton Rose and Alani Moore II and junior Nate Pierre-Louis – is scoring an average of 45 points each night for a team that averages 71.7 points this season. Pierre-Louis should be USC’s biggest concern, as he is leading the Owls in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
Pierre-Louis’s outstanding performances have helped Temple remain undefeated this season at 3-0. His 21 points and 12 rebounds were team-highs in their 75-60 victory over La Salle University on Saturday.
A 6th-straight victory against a strong opponent could be just what the Trojans need to enter the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. Despite two wins last week, including one against a 2019 NCAA Tournament participant, the Trojans only received two votes in this week’s rankings. With a victory over Temple, it would be hard for the press to keep an undefeated Power Five team with quality wins out of the rankings for another week.
The Trojans and the Owls will face-off at the Galen Center Friday, starting at 8:00 p.m. PT. The first 1,000 USC students to attend will receive a free “Trojan Fever” T-shirt.