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USC’s Evan Mobley joins Anthony Davis in making college basketball history

USC's Evan Mobley dunks during the second half of the Trojans' win at Washington State on Feb. 13.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

When Evan Mobley arrived on USC’s campus as the highest-rated recruit in the school’s modest basketball history, the 7-footer carried with him the kind of towering expectations that hadn’t accompanied the program in decades, if ever.

Somehow, his freshman season still managed to outpace those lofty projections. No player in the Pac-12 was more dominant during this strange pandemic season than Mobley, who was selected the conference’s player of the year, freshman of the year and defensive player of the year on Tuesday.

Mobley is the fourth Trojan to be named the conference’s player of the year and the first since Sam Clancy in 2002. But neither Clancy, nor Harold Miner (1992) nor Wayne Carlander (1985) pulled off a sweep of the Pac-12 hoops awards. The only player from a major conference to match Mobley in that regard is former Kentucky standout and current Lakers star Anthony Davis, who won all three Southeastern Conference awards in 2012.

Mobley is the second Pac-12 player to win the conference’s player of the year award while also being named its best defensive player. The other freshmen to win the Pac-12’s top honor are California’s Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1996), UCLA’s Kevin Love (2008) and Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton (2018).

Mobley was the centerpiece of a season for USC that exceeded the most ambitious of expectations, as Andy Enfield, in his eighth and most impressive season, led the Trojans to the doorstep of their first Pac-12 title since 1985. They may not have finished the job, faltering over the season’s final road trip to the Rockies, but USC’s 21 wins this season led all Pac-12 teams. USC went 15-5 in the conference, finishing second to Oregon (14-4) by percentage points.

Tahj Eaddy’s game-winner in USC’s 64-63 win at UCLA was strikingly similar to Jonah Mathews’ shot the year before. Now the Trojans must build off it.

It was a banner season amid difficult circumstances for Enfield, who was honored as the Pac-12’s coach of the year. Enfield is the first USC coach to earn the conference’s top honors since George Raveling in 1992. Bob Boyd (1979) and Stan Morrison (1985) also won the award.

None of those three had to rebuild their team on the fly like Enfield did this season. The Trojans had only three players with experience returning, so he built much of the roster through the portal, adding three of USC’s five starters starters and four of its top six scorers by way of transfers.

“If you would’ve asked us, would you take 21-6, 15-5 in our league, I would have said sign us up now,” Enfield said Saturday after USC beat UCLA 64-63 on a last-second three-pointer by Tahj Eaddy, one of the transfers.

Eaddy was chosen to the All-Pac-12 second team after being thrust into a leading role in the offense. Eaddy responded by averaging 13.1 points and making 39% of his three-pointers, the best rate on the team.

It helped to have a future top draft pick to build around, and Mobley didn’t waste any time in dominating this season.

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He scored 21 points in his debut and never looked back. He won the freshman of the week award seven times, while no one else won more than two. He had 10 double-doubles, the most in the Pac-12. He led the conference in rebounds per game (8.6) and blocks per game (2.9), while finishing seventh in scoring (16.1 points). But Mobley’s total impact, especially on the defensive end, was difficult to quantify.

Mobley proved to be a terror in the paint, blocking 77 shots, more than all but two players in college basketball. And it was from that prowess that USC built its best defense in recent memory, holding opponents to 39% shooting over the course of the season, 12th-best in college basketball.

Evan Mobley had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and No. 17 USC beat Arizona State 89-71 to stay atop the Pac-12 standings.

It was a memorable season from Mobley, who will most assuredly leave USC after the NCAA tournament to declare for the NBA draft. He’s expected to be a top-three pick.

UCLA had its own expectations this season, picked to finish at the top of the conference, while USC was slated for sixth. While the Trojans swept the Pac-12’s top honors, the Bruins had more players honored on the All-Pac-12 teams.

Bruins point guard Tyger Campbell was named to the conference’s first team, while Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang were named to the second team. Jaquez also earned a place on the all-defensive team.


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