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USC faces a 'must-win' game against TCU to bolster its NCAA tournament hopes

USC faces a 'must-win' game against TCU to bolster its NCAA tournament hopes
USC head coach Andy Enfield yells out instructions from the bench during the first half against Nevada. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

USC basketball coach Andy Enfield was not afraid this week to build up the game Friday night against Texas Christian at Staples Center to his Trojans, telling them it was a must-win.

It is only early December, but Enfield’s players didn’t need much convincing after losing all three games they’ve played against teams that would help their NCAA tournament resume — Vanderbilt, No. 13 Texas Tech and No. 6 Nevada. The Horned Frogs (6-1) made the tournament last year and probably will be in contention for an at-large berth again this season.

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That is where USC (5-3) wants to be, too, but it has to get results soon.

“We haven’t really gotten a big-time win yet,” USC center Nick Rakocevic said. “I think TCU would be kind of like a step for us. We just need to get over this first one and then I think we’ll start rolling after that.”

The Trojans are confident that their ceiling remains high even after a slow start. Enfield cites as tantalizing evidence that they won a half in each of their losses.

“Unfortunately, you have to do it for 40 minutes to win a game,” Enfield said, “so we have to play a complete game on Friday, offensively and defensively.”

Against Nevada last Saturday, USC held a 35-29 lead late in the first half before an 18-2 Wolf Pack run took the energy out of the Galen Center. Enfield spoke this week to upperclassmen such as Bennie Boatwright about working for better shots in the middle of an opponent’s spurt.

“When the other team goes on runs, it’s as much an offensive mentality as a defensive mentality,” Enfield said. “You have to be unselfish and aggressive on offense and defensively you have to step up and stop the runs.”

USC probably will again be without freshman Kevin Porter Jr., who has been sidelined because of a quad bruise. Porter, who sat out the previous two games, attempted to play against Nevada in the second half but returned to the bench after four minutes because he wasn’t ready. He is doubtful for TCU after not practicing this week.

“He’s had a tough time with this injury,” Enfield said.

Enfield said he didn’t want any injury to be viewed as an excuse. Without Porter, USC will need veteran wings Jonah Mathews and Shaqquan Aaron to be at their best against the Horned Frogs. Boatwright, still finding his rhythm after sitting out training camp after offseason knee surgery, is nearing full health and will have to shoot better than he did against Nevada, when he missed 10 of 13 shots.

The stakes will be high enough for the Trojans on their own, but the chance to play at Staples Center can’t help but bring extra motivation.

“If you can’t get excited to play in an NBA arena in Los Angeles,” Enfield said, “then you shouldn’t be out on the court.”

UP NEXT

vs. Texas Christian

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When: Friday, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: FS1; Radio: 1110.

Update: TCU is 6-1 after a 67-59 win over rival Southern Methodist on Wednesday. The Horned Frogs were led by JD Miller and Jaylen Fisher, who each scored 15 points.

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