It was a pure team effort for the sixth seeded USC Trojans, who outplayed Kansas for 40 minutes on both sides of the ball en route to an 85-51 victory in round two of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Monday night.
Evan Mobley led the race for the Trojans up front. The Pac-12 player of the year had the attention of the Kansas defense from the game’s opening tip, attracting two or even three defenders to his area below the basket and opening up the floor for his teammates. Mobley was very effective with the ball, finishing the game with 10 points on 4-6 shooting and 13 rebounds to earn his 11th double-double of the season.
Offensively, USC put together one of their most well rounded performances of the season. Five players scored in double figures, compared to just one for Kansas. The Trojans were a threat to score in all areas of the floor, dominating in the paint and shooting lights-out from distance.
Overall, USC shot 57% from the floor, and 11-18 from beyond the arc. The team’s 61% shooting mark from three was their highest percentage all season long. The battle in the paint was no contest as well, as the Trojans outscored the third seeded Jayhawks in the paint 38-24.
Sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley led USC in scoring overall, with 17 points on 6-14 shooting to go along with eight rebounds. The 6′10″ big man is not known for shooting from distance, as he had not taken more than three or made more than two three point shots in a single game, but he went 4-5 from deep.
“I don’t necessarily like to sit on the three always,” Isaiah Mobley said in the post game press conference. “But if they’re giving them to me, I’m going to take them. I’ve been working on them, along with my free throws. As long as they keep giving me those opportunities, I’m going to keep taking them. Hopefully they just keep falling.”
The secondary offensive production did not end with Isaiah Mobley. Redshirt senior guard Isaiah White also had an excellent day offensively, producing 13 points on 5-7 shooting including 3-4 from three, and redshirt senior guard Taj Eaddy added 12 points.
USC’s reserves came up big, outscoring Kansas’ bench 28-18, with 10 points from redshirt senior forward Chavez Goodwin and nine from sophomore guard Ethan Anderson. The Trojan bench shot a combined 11-13 from the field.
Similar to the rest of the season, USC struggled to hit free throws, hitting 10-17, including 4-8 in the first half.
Just as impressive as their offensive explosion, if not more so, was the Trojan’s extraordinary effort on defense. The unit held them to only 51 points on 29% shooting to a Kansas team that averages just under 74 points per game and shoots 44% from the floor. This game marks the second time in as many games in this tournament where USC’s defense held an opponent to below 30% shooting for the game.
The Trojans used their size and length to their advantage, covering nearly every inch of floor running an aggressive zone defense. Despite this, Kansas gave the ball away only seven times, but the Trojans stayed with the Jayhawks’ shooters on each possession, contesting just about every shot. Additionally, junior guard Ochai Agbaji, Kansas’ leading scorer, finished the night with just eight points on 3-13 shooting.
The Mobley brothers used their size to their advantage in the paint on defense, blocking a combined four shots, including three from Evan. They were also effective in preventing second chance baskets from Kansas, who finished with only five points off of offensive rebounds on the night. USC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and won this matchup on the glass 43-27.
“David McCormack is a terrific, true center,” coach Andy Enfield said. “He averages 14 a game, he’s a back-to-basket guy. He is probably the best true center we played against all season. Our game plan was to try to make it hard for him to catch the ball, then to tall up, make him shoot over our length… We just did a good job as a team defense tonight.”
This win marks an important milestone for Southern California basketball, as it is the program’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 in 14 seasons.
“We have a lot of stability here because to build a program, we came in in the first two years, we were last place in the Pac-12,” Einfield said. “Year one and two, we were dead last. We were 5-31 in Pac-12 days. To see the work that Jason Hart and Chris Capko put in, and Kurtis Shultz, what they’ve done as a coaching staff, is just amazing.”
In the Sweet 16, USC will face a familiar opponent, the seventh seeded Oregon Ducks. Oregon was the regular season conference champion despite USC beating them 72-58 in their lone regular season matchup. The Ducks are coming off a major upset in the round of 32, defeating second seeded Iowa 95-80 on Monday.
The two teams square off in Indianapolis Sunday at 6:45 p.m. with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.