Freshman forward Evan Mobley showed why he is such a highly coveted NBA prospect Saturday night, scoring 25 points to lead USC to a 76-68 victory over California in Berkeley.
With 35 seconds left, Mobley brought in his fifth offensive rebound and quickly turned around for a baby skyhook that extended the Trojans’ lead to six points to all but guarantee a USC win.
Head coach Andy Enfield was impressed with his team’s performance to cap off an emotional week that featured a close loss to Oregon State, a false positive COVID-19 test and subsequent postponement of Thursday’s scheduled matchup against Stanford.
“This is a big road win for us coming off a loss, it was important that we got back, as we did tonight. Our players played exceptionally hard all night,” Enfield said.
In a game where each team shot 24-of-58 from the field, USC bounced back at the free-throw line by shooting 78% after a costly 10-of-18 performance against Oregon State on Tuesday.
Mobley and redshirt senior guard Tahj Eaddy scored the Trojans’ first 13 points of the game, helping USC attain an early 17-6 lead in the first six minutes. California initially struggled to contain Mobley, as the talented scorer drew fouls on three straight possessions and converted on all six free-throw attempts.
However, when junior guard Matt Bradley, the Golden Bears’ leading scorer per game this season, and sophomore guard Joel Brown finally entered the floor, California quickly found its offensive rhythm, cutting the Trojans’ lead to two midway through the first half. Bradley was a game-time decision after missing the previous five games with an ankle injury and did not start.
In a similar fashion to their loss at Oregon State, the Trojans’ offense slowed down for the remainder of the first half, scoring just 10 points in a 10-minute stretch. Still, USC took a slim 35-34 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the Trojans were somewhat reliant on their performance outside the paint, despite their apparent advantage in the frontcourt thanks to the Mobley brothers. USC was unable to consistently outrebound California for the first ten minutes of the second half, allowing the Golden Bears to get some second-chance opportunities off of offensive rebounds. The Trojans were finally able to re-establish their dominance inside during the last few minutes though; USC outrebounded California 42-31 for the game, including 17 on offense.
California senior forward Grant Anticevich posed problems for the USC defense, tallying 15 points. Still, Evan Mobley performed well enough to carry the Trojans, garnering an impressive stat line of 25 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
On the other hand, forward Isaiah Mobley struggled at times in the paint, turning the ball over three times and shooting just 3-for-9, although the sophomore brought in 10 rebounds.
The Trojans relied on impressive guard play from Eaddy and sophomore Ethan Anderson, who combined for 29 points and 5-for-7 from 3-point range. The two point guards hadn’t been on the floor together much this season prior to Saturday night because of Anderson’s back injury that kept him sidelined for multiple weeks.
“[Anderson] is our best on the ball defender as a guard. So we need him to keep elevating his game. He’s not back to where he was, but I think tonight was a great start to getting [him] back,” Enfield said. “As to how we rotate our guards — it’s pretty simple, whoever plays well stays in the game and whoever’s struggling comes out.
This game featured a rather fast pace from both teams, which emphasized the performances of both backcourts; California saw nice production from Bradley and Brown, who had 11 and 15 points respectively off the bench.
Nevertheless, USC had the best player on the floor in Evan Mobley, who proved to be the deciding factor.
“Very, very proud of Evan … as you saw tonight, he was fouled ten times, made 12 of 15 free throws and was just very, very aggressive,” Enfield said. “We need him to play like that on a nightly basis for us to be successful.”
USC will have five days off before its next scheduled contest, a home bout with Oregon State at 2 p.m. on Thursday.