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USC starts to click as injured players return

USC starts to click as injured players return
USC guard Jordan McLaughlin, right, passes the ball as Utah guard Justin Bibbins defends during the first half Sunday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

As far as stability goes, the USC basketball team hasn't experienced much this season.

But with the return of some injured players, and after two Pac-12 Conference victories and a long-awaited decision in the De'Anthony Melton saga, the Trojans (13-6 overall, 4-2 in Pac-12 play) hope to navigate the remainder of their schedule on solid ground.

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Forward Bennie Boatwright and guards Jonah Mathews and Derryck Thornton are starting to hit stride since spending time sidelined because of injuries. And the school recently announced that Melton, the sophomore guard linked to the college basketball bribery probe, will be held out the rest of the season.

Coach Andy Enfield said Wednesday that he would be able to settle on a consistent rotation moving forward.

"We've had a lot of different lineups," Enfield said. "Now I know we are healthy, playing well and that unfortunately De'Anthony will not be able to play for us."

On Sunday, Boatwright grabbed eight rebounds and Mathews came off the bench to contribute 17 points as the Trojans made a season-best 14 three-point shots and defeated Utah for the first time since 2013.

This week, with a trip to Oregon (12-6, 2-3) and Oregon State (10-7, 2-3), the Trojans want to keep their slump-busting streak alive.

USC has lost 14 consecutive games to the Ducks and has not won in Eugene since January 2009.

"Oregon has a significant home-court advantage," Enfield said. "And we have to try to continue to play aggressive defense."

Since losing to Washington in a conference opener in which the Huskies shot 67.3% from the field, the Trojans have recommitted to defense and have held their last five opponents to 42.4% shooting while leading the conference in assist-to-turnover margin.

Enfield said Thornton, a Duke transfer who was ineligible to play last season, has provided energy off the bench. Thornton had four steals in last week's win over Colorado.

"He's a very good on-the-ball defender and has great speed," Enfield said.

Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin is averaging 13.2 points, 7.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game; junior forward Chimezie Metu is averaging 16.7 points per game and making 45% of his three-point shots, and Boatwright is averaging 15.4 points and shooting 36% from three-point range.

"The focus of our players playing well together on both ends of the floor is there and we need to try to continue that," Enfield said.

NEXT UP

AT OREGON

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When: Thursday, 6 p.m.

Where: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.

On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: 710.

Update: USC forced 17 turnovers and had five steals against Utah, and they'll need a similar effort to defeat Oregon. The Ducks split their recent trip to the desert, defeating No.11 Arizona State before falling to No. 17 Arizona. Sophomore guard Payton Pritchard leads the Ducks in scoring, averaging 15 points per game.

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Facebook and Twitter @LindseyThiry

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