Kevin Porter Jr.’s return from injury in early January was supposed to have a twofold positive effect, saving USC’s season from ruin and proving that he had the game to match his reputation as a projected NBA lottery pick.
But the Trojans have a 3-4 record in Pac-12 games Porter has played — he sat through a two-game suspension for an undisclosed conduct issue — and the freshman wing has scored in double figures just once while shooting 35.7% from the field in his last five outings.
With seven games left in the regular season, USC’s and Porter’s frustration are mounting in tandem. And Porter hasn’t been able to avoid the criticism regarding his underwhelming play.
“I usually do a good job at blocking that out, but I definitely have been seeing what’s been said about me,” Porter said Tuesday in his first comments since his suspension, levied Jan. 13 at Oregon. “I just use it as motivation, really. People have seen what I am capable of doing before my injury. That’s just a part of the game. I just focus on getting my rhythm back and doing everything I can do to help this team get far.”
The Trojans, 13-11 overall and tied for fifth in the Pac-12 at 6-5 after losing home games last week to Utah and Colorado, are running out of time to reach their ceiling. Porter remains the most obvious source for a potential late-season boost, but he said Tuesday that he aggravated the right quadriceps injury that limited him to four minutes of playing time from Nov. 22 to Jan. 10 after scoring 14 points against Arizona on Jan. 24.
Porter had a major impact in that easy USC victory in just 18 minutes, but he was unable to build on that performance. He had zero points the next game against Arizona State.
“I feel like I’m high 80s,” Porter said when asked if he’s 100%, “but there’s some days that I can’t practice. It gets irritated. When I was out, I had to put pressure on everything else, so a lot of my body is breaking down right now.
“It just took a toll on my explosiveness and athleticism. I’m not able to jump as fast or as high as I used to right now. I’ve just got to adjust, be more crafty and be a playmaker.”
Coach Andy Enfield said that minutes in the backcourt are wide open for any of his struggling guards. But Porter has to go out and earn them.
He has not made quick decisions in the flow of the game, often opting for fancy dribbling instead of moving the ball to a teammate or using his quickness to create.
“We just need him to be more efficient on offense,” Enfield said. “We have a lot of games left, and we’re going to play the guys that are playing well and making plays and are efficient on both sides of the ball. We would love for some of our guys including Kevin to shoot higher percentages, have higher assist-to-turnover ratios and play team basketball and help us win.”
The Trojans go to the Bay Area and have a chance to pick up a couple of wins against Stanford on Wednesday and California on Saturday. USC swept the Cardinal and the Golden Bears in January at the Galen Center without Porter.
“Just getting back to how I used to play is basically my main goal,” Porter said, “because the team needs me to perform and do what I used to do.”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Maples Pavilion.
On the air: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 710.
Update: The Cardinal (12-11, 5-6) are coming off a 69-46 loss at Oregon on Sunday that ended a winning streak at three games. USC defeated Stanford 77-66 on Jan. 6 at the Galen Center, but the Trojans have lost their last four games at Stanford, including last season’s heartbreaking 77-76 loss when Daejon Davis hit a 55-footer at the buzzer.