To someone who does not understand USC basketball’s place in the Los Angeles sports hierarchy, Andy Enfield’s description of Staples Center as a venue for his team this week might have come as a surprise.
“It’s a neutral court,” Enfield said.
The Trojans play their home games at Galen Center, less than a two-mile trek down Figueroa Street. And they do represent the University of Southern California, after all. But Enfield seemed resigned to a USC fan turnout so small that it would not provide the Trojans a home-court advantage against Texas Christian, which hopped a commercial plane Thursday and flew 1,400 miles for what it assumed would be something at least resembling a road game.
Of course, Enfield was right. Los Angeles’ pro basketball arena had nothing to offer the Trojans in the way of assistance Friday night. USC looked like it had other plans too, neglecting to show up on the near-empty big stage while TCU spent 40 minutes of court time putting on a clinic in unselfish basketball during a 96-61 annihilation of the Trojans.
“I did not see this coming,” Enfield said.
Friday night was USC’s worst loss in Enfield’s five-plus seasons leading the Trojans. USC (5-4) has losses in all of its marquee games.
The Trojans appeared rudderless, turning it over 20 times Friday night and dishing out only 11 assists as a team. USC’s point guards, redshirt junior Derryck Thornton and freshman Elijah Weaver, each had five turnovers. The Trojans struggled to generate any flow within their half-court offense, which led to a 31.6% shooting night.
“We have to have more consistency in our point guard play,” Enfield said. “You look at their point guards, they had 12 assists and two turnovers.”
Indeed, TCU’s Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson were the difference between the Horned Frogs performing like a group heading toward back-to-back NCAA tournament berths and the Trojans performing like a squad heading toward a second straight season watching the sport’s signature event from home.
Fisher and Robinson each had 15 points. All of Fisher’s points came on the five three-pointers he made in the first half as the Horned Frogs (7-1) built a 46-26 halftime lead.
USC had its chance to try to make it a game. Trailing 23-17, USC guard Shaqquan Aaron stole the ball and had a breakaway dunk in front of him. But he clanged the ball off the rim, and TCU answered with a Fisher three-pointer for a quick five-point swing.
“It started to snowball from there,” Enfield said. “It’s on our veterans and our coaches to figure out how to stop the other team’s runs when we can. Other teams play well, but when they do, we have to figure out how to stop that and play better ourselves. Tonight, the wheels fell off.”
If a singular disturbing theme has emerged in this young season, it is USC allowing good teams to plow through it with little fight to stem the tide.
Enfield called it a mental toughness issue.
“I think that’s a serious problem in our team right now,” USC center Nick Rakocevic said. “We get punched in the mouth the first five minutes and we can’t get back up. It’s just something we have to work on as individuals. I don’t know if you can really coach that.”
Enfield seemed to think that he can coach the Trojans through this. On one of the roughest nights of his time at USC, he shouldered most of the blame for a team clearly searching for a leader.
“This is an embarrassing loss for us,” Enfield said. “But they’re college basketball players, and they need to compete. This is what we all signed up for. Our coaching staff and players, we’re going to compete and we will find guys on our team that want to compete, and hopefully they all will. They’re all good kids. We love them all. As players tonight, they weren’t good, and our coaches were even worse, including myself. We’ll figure this out together.”