Before the college basketball season started last month, USC and Washington appeared headed in opposite directions.
USC, ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams in the preseason, returned a deep, talented roster from last year’s NCAA tournament squad.
The Huskies, meanwhile, were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 under first-year coach Mike Hopkins.
But the early-season promise for USC faded Friday night as Washington defeated the Trojans 88-81 in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
The season is still young. But USC’s uninspired performance in front of an equally uninspired crowd of 3,104 at the Galen Center — the in-game host had to beg fans to make noise — raised questions about the team’s direction.
“Our defense was just terrible,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We played soft…. I was very disappointed in some of our upperclassmen defensively. They have to go home and look in the mirror and come back and play better basketball if we’re going to have a chance to win games in this league.”
USC (9-5) ended the nonconference portion of its schedule by winning three games to capture the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. But worrisome signs preceded the tournament: losses in four of six games and a leaky defense that ranked 207th in the country in points allowed entering Friday’s game.
USC cut Washington’s lead to five points after a layup by junior Bennie Boatwright with 12:16 remaining.
But Huskies junior Dominic Green, averaging 4.2 points per game in his career, responded with a three-pointer, part of his 16-point effort off the bench. Washington (11-3) quickly built a 12-point lead and kept USC at arm’s length the remainder of the game.
Junior Chimezie Metu led USC with 26 points — eclipsing the 1,000-point mark for his career — and Boatwright contributed 24 points.
Once again, sophomore De’Anthony Melton watched the game wearing a gray sweatsuit on the bench. The team’s best defender — the Trojans lacked an answer to slow Washington’s three-guard offense — has been held out of all 14 games by the school this season in connection with the college basketball bribery investigation.
Junior Noah Dickerson scored 17 points for Washington — which upset then-No.2 Kansas earlier this month — to go along with 16 points from freshman Jaylen Nowell.
Another junior, Matisse Thybulle, put an exclamation point on the victory with a three-pointer off a kick-out pass with 1:39 left, as the Huskies shot 73.1% from the field in the second half.
“We just did not stop them,” Enfield said.