USC basketball remains poised in defeating Washington, 98-88
USC wanted triple digits.
Thirteen seconds remained in Saturday’s game against Washington at Galen Center, and the outcome had already been decided. The Trojans could have run out the clock. They didn’t. Instead, they pushed the ball, and guard Katin Reinhardt found himself with a shot with three seconds left. He took it.
It rimmed out, meaning USC had to settle for a still-impressive 98 points — and a win. The final score was 98-88, enough to ease the pain of USC’s collapse against Washington earlier in January.
In that game, the Trojans had squandered a 22-point second-half lead. The Huskies’ press bewildered USC.
The disintegration began with 13 minutes 28 seconds left.
By that point Saturday, USC had accumulated a healthy lead by feeding Nikola Jovanovic inside. He scored 28 points, a season high. But a run was coming.
“You blink and they put eight or 10 points up,” said USC Coach Andy Enfield.
After a dunk by Malik Dime, and a layup by Dejounte Murray, USC’s lead was down to three points. The Trojans called time out.
Time left: 13 minutes 36 seconds.
This time, USC didn’t fold.
The Trojans spent much of Friday’s practice working on breaking Washington’s press. On Saturday, they limited turnovers in transition. Washington’s press wasn’t fatal.
“We just remained poised,” guard Jordan McLaughlin said.
After the timeout, the Trojans missed just five more shots all game. They shot 65.2% from the field in the second half, and 51.7% overall. They made 32 of 37 free throws, their best percentage of the season.
McLaughlin, who suffered from a fever all of last week, had his best game since falling ill. He scored 21 points with seven rebounds and five assists, and he said he felt healthy.
“I don’t know what it was,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t know whether it was common cold, flu. It got me pretty good. I’m feeling a lot better now.”
Washington guard Andrew Andrews scored the game’s first basket but made just two more field goals. Andrews is the first Pac-12 Conference player since Klay Thompson to average more than 20 points per game. But he scored just two points in the first half Saturday, and 15 for the game.
Murray and Marquese Chriss led Washington with 18 points each.
Washington (14-7, 6-3 Pac-12) had been in first place in the conference all season. The loss knocked them back to second, tied with USC.
“Every time we made a mistake, they made us pay for it,” Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said.
At the midpoint of the Pac-12 season, USC (17-5, 6-3) is now half a game behind first-place Oregon, which will play Arizona State on Sunday. At this point last season, USC had one Pac-12 win and was seven games behind first-place Arizona.
All season, Enfield has said USC is “close” to becoming a very good team. He is not yet willing to upgrade his assessment.
“We’re still close,” Enfield said. “We’re closer now than we were a month ago.”
But energy is slowly building. Students filled three sections behind the basket Saturday. “Batman” actor Christian Bale was at Galen Center, and Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell spent part of his off day sitting courtside. The attendance, 6,387, was USC’s second highest this season. USC is 13-0 at home this season, its best start since 1943.
“The arena was packed with enthusiastic USC fans,” Enfield said. He smiled. “It makes a big difference.”
Jovanovic said the crowd “boosts our energy a lot.”
The crowd was standing for the final possession, and deflated only slightly after Reinhardt’s miss.
“As long as we have the most at the end,” McLaughlin said.
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand
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