The last time USC Coach Andy Enfield was part of a quadruple-overtime affair, he was in college, playing at a community center in Shippensburg, Pa. As Enfield tells it, the referee — who happened to be his best friend — called a 10-second violation as Enfield crossed half-court, which negated a 66-point personal effort and handed his team a loss.
Safe to say he'll have fonder memories of USC's four-overtime performance against the Arizona Wildcats.
In front of a season-high 6,854 at the Galen Center — a crowd that included university President Max Nikias, Athletic Director Pat Haden, and Lakers guard Nick Young — the Trojans showed that for this year at least, they might be better off as a basketball school, winning a thriller over the No. 7 Wildcats, 103-101.
At the end of regulation, overtime, double overtime, and triple overtime, USC (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) had an opportunity to take and make the go-ahead shot. Instead, the Trojans missed twice in the final moments of regulation, turned it over in the first and second overtimes, then missed a mid-range jumper to close the third overtime.
But in the final period, sophomore guard Elijah Stewart, who admitted to “having flashbacks” to a triple-overtime defeat against Colorado last season, converted a pair of free throws with 22 seconds remaining. Arizona's Kadeem Allen had a chance to tie or win it, but he short-armed a desperation heave to give USC the victory.
"I thought we had them stopped 15 times and then they'd come up with some kind of shot or pass," Enfield said. "That was just a great college basketball game. Arizona is just an amazing team."
USC featured five players with at least 15 points, led by Stewart, who had 27 points on nine-of-13 shooting (including five of eight from three-point range). Five players for USC logged at least 40 minutes, as did four for Arizona (13-3, 1-2). Though Stewart joked that he was losing his voice afterward, he didn't think fatigue was an issue.
"There were spurts where I felt tired, but we've had so much conditioning," Stewart said.
Jordan McLaughlin contributed 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists in 50 minutes, and followed up Stewart's conditioning declaration by saying that he was “ready to go again.”
USC also got major contributions from junior guard Julian Jacobs, who finished with 18 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and seven steals in 53 minutes.
“Julian Jacobs, on his ankle — I don't know if he could've played a fifth or sixth overtime,” Enfield said, referencing the sprained ankle Jacobs suffered against Washington last weekend.
After USC led 45-37 at the half, the Wildcats made a run in the closing minutes of regulation, with big man Kaleb Tarczewski converting on consecutive putbacks to tie the game at 71.
With fatigue setting in and both teams already in the double bonus, knocking down free throws took on a new importance in the overtime sessions. USC shot only seven of 22 from the floor (31.8%) post-regulation time, but made 16 of 18 from the foul line. Arizona was eight for 12.
USC improved to 11-0 at home, its best start since 1974. It also has a chance to be ranked in the top 25, which hasn't happened since November 2008. Enfield, however, was careful to temper expectations.
“We're a much better team than last year,” Enfield said. “A lot of the same players, but they've improved and grown up, and now we're a pretty good team. Not a great team yet, but we're pretty good.”