The best team does not just play well; it exploits its opponents’ weaknesses and capitalizes on them.
Undefeated No. 1 Gonzaga did exactly that in its 85-66 victory over USC in the Elite Eight Tuesday.
In the first half, Gonzaga forced seven turnovers which it converted into 15 fast-break points. By the time USC found a way to limit its turnovers, it was too late. Gonzaga already held a double-digit lead and never looked back, coasting to an easy victory.
The loss marks the end to one of the best teams in USC history, one game short of the program’s first Final Four since 1954.
“This is a very special team in USC basketball history to be 25-8, make the Elite Eight,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “I just can’t say enough about these guys. I know tonight was not the result we all wanted, but these guys are winners in here. We were picked sixth in the preseason in our own league and came in the top eight in this country. To do that, this is a really special basketball team, and we’re very, very proud of them.”
The main matchup coming into the game was between Pac-12 Player of the Year freshman forward Evan Mobley and Gonzaga sophomore forward Drew Timme. Facing his best competition of the season, Mobley could not contain Timme, who put up 23 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“He played a great game tonight,” Enfield said of Timme. “I thought he finished a lot of shots in the lane. Some of them were contested, and they still went in.”
Although Evan Mobley brought home the regular season hardware, it was his brother, sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley who led the Trojans throughout the tournament, including in the Elite Eight. Isaiah had 19 points and seven rebounds against Gonzaga, leading the team in both categories.
“Isaiah Mobley has improved,” Enfield said. “His inside-outside game he’s improved, his shooting, his ball handling and he’s getting better as a player.”
The game also pitted the best 2-point shooting offense in the country in the Bulldogs against the best 2-point shooting defense in the Trojans. But USC’s stellar defense had no answer for the Bulldogs’ offense, allowing them to shoot 58% from the field and score 46 points in the paint despite USC being one of the tallest teams in the nation.
The Trojans’ height also did not translate to the defensive glass where Gonzaga was able to grab 12 offensive rebounds leading to 12 second-chance points.
To go along with Timme, West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year guard Jalen Suggs came close to a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Evan Mobley had high praise for his fellow freshman postgame.
“Suggs had a great pace to his game, and he was just attacking whatever he could,” Mobley said. “That’s where most of his points and assists came from because he would help, and he would kick out at the right times.”
Now in the offseason, USC will turn to next season which will most likely be played without Evan Mobley, who is projected to be a top pick in this year’s NBA draft. With the loss of Mobley, USC will wait and see who else returns next year as it looks to build off an excellent season and potentially end the program’s Final Four drought.