A third of the way through the schedule, the USC basketball team’s season feels as if it hasn’t gotten off the ground, and maybe that’s an optimistic view.
At 5-5, with four losses by double digits and no quality wins, the Trojans have possibly dug themselves a hole so deep that winning a historically weak Pac-12 Conference is the only thing that could pull them out of it and put them back in consideration for the NCAA tournament.
The problem is, the hole just keeps getting deeper. USC has lost three in a row and is still waiting for injured freshman wing Kevin Porter Jr. to bring the star power that has him projected to be picked in the top 10 of the June NBA draft.
Porter’s bruised quad has lingered more than anyone could have imagined when he hurt it against Missouri State in November. He did not make the trip with the Trojans for their game Tuesday night at Santa Clara, where USC coach Andy Enfield hopes his team can start to click before it's too late.
“It’s been the toughest start in all my years of coaching,” Enfield said, “because of all the injuries we’ve had and the disruption of practices and games. It’s hard to prepare adequately if you don’t have enough healthy bodies in practice. It has been exceptionally challenging for all of us, but we’re not using that as an excuse, because the players that we have on our team, some are very experienced, and we have to play better as a team.”
USC started the season without top senior returner Bennie Boatwright (offseason knee surgery) and talented freshman point guard Elijah Weaver (offseason ankle surgery). Both players missed the majority of training camp while rehabilitating.
Boatwright has not played up to the standard that made him a 1,000-point scorer, particularly in the last three games, in which he has averaged 10 points on 30.5% shooting.
Weaver has played 20 minutes per game since returning in the third game of the season and has added a scoring punch off the bench. But he has hurt the Trojans with 22 turnovers compared to 16 assists.
As soon as the Trojans got Boatwright and Weaver back, Porter and sophomore wing Charles O’Bannon Jr. (finger) left the rotation with injuries.
With all of that working against USC, it is no surprise that the team’s chemistry remains a work in progress.
“As a team we need to be more active in sharing the basketball and moving the ball,” Enfield said, “so Bennie and other guys can play off of closeouts or get the ball in the post at the appropriate time or with ball-screen action. Bennie is not alone. We have a few guys that are struggling right now with their play-making and their shooting."
Enfield points to the fact that the five teams the Trojans lost to have a combined record of 45-4 as a source of hope.
USC has a chance to build some momentum over the holidays with Santa Clara, Southern Utah (Friday) and UC Davis (Dec. 30).
“We have been playing tough teams,” Enfield said. “But this is about us now. From here, this week and into conference play, we have to focus on our team, not the opponent. We have to get better, and we’re working on it.”
AT SANTA CLARA
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Leavey Center.
On the air: Radio: 1110.