In a match which saw double-digit scoring performances by four different Trojans, USC came away with a 74-63 victory over crosstown rival UCLA.
UCLA gave the Trojans some trouble for much of the first half with its full-court press, forcing eight turnovers in the first twenty minutes of the game. However, USC did manage to make the most of their opportunities when they did break the half-court threshold, shooting a respectable 45.8% from the field in the first frame. Head coach Andy Enfield said the press allowed for transition scoring opportunities.
The Bruins didn’t have the same success, posting a field goal percentage under 40% and a three-point percentage of 25% in the first half. In spite of this disparity, UCLA was able to keep USC within sniffing distance because of the extra possessions they had been able to create through turnovers. The Trojans entered the locker room up 33-31.
Learning and adjusting from their first-half blunders, the Trojans were able to dismantle UCLA’s full-court press and opened the second half converting on eight of their first nine field goals. However, the Trojans’ momentum came crashing down midway through the frame when starting point guard Ethan Anderson appeared to injure his ankle in a loose ball scramble.
The image of Anderson being helped off the court by his teammates was a tough blow for the Trojans; the freshman point guard has cemented himself as a capable ball-handler and playmaker in Enfield’s system.
However, the former three-star Los Angeles product displayed toughness when he reentered the game after a quick trip to the locker room. With their court general back on the floor, the Trojans continued their offensive burst. Seniors Jonah Mathews and Nick Rakocevic led the way, scoring 14 and 11 points, respectively, in the second half. Mathews, who did not miss a shot after halftime, hit a triple along with two free throws to stick the final dagger in the Bruins. The veterans’ impact did not go unnoticed.
“Seniors tend to have more of a sense of urgency as players,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said. “[Matthews and Rakocevic] both shot a high percentage, and between them, I’m looking at 68 minutes and one turnovers … They’re both very, very good players.”
The pair’s increased scoring production could not have come at a better time, as USC’s leading scorer on the season, freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu, was exiled to the bench after falling into foul trouble early in the game. Unable to establish himself within the flow of the offense, Big O managed a modest stat line of just 4 points and two rebounds over 23 minutes.
Nick Rakocevic, who has struggled with foul trouble in the past, noted “[foul trouble] can take a toll on you mentally. We are definitely going to need Big O down the line during this season.”
Saturday night was a major step in the right direction for the Trojans, yet it is clear that this team has yet to reach its potential. USC has played exceptional basketball in short spurts, but it remains to be seen what this team can be with 40 minutes of great play. The good news is that the upside is there. The bad news is that it hasn’t come to fruition… yet.
But for now, the Trojans can celebrate a road win over a rival. Facing a hostile crowd, they were able to add another notch to the win column in this historic rivalry.
“This is my first time winning in Pauley Pavilion,” Mathews said. “The team played great. We all had toughness throughout the whole forty minutes. It feels great to get a win.”