USC struggled on the road last season, but Coach Andy Enfield played down the fact that the Trojans opened the Pac-12 Conference season with a road win Friday night.
“We didn’t win too many games [last season] at home, either,” Enfield joked after the Trojans scored 54 points in the first half and cruised to a 90-77 victory over Washington State.
One year after a young USC squad finished last in the Pac-12 at 3-15 — including 0-9 on the road — the Trojans won their seventh consecutive game to improve to 12-2. USC led from the opening basket and three times went up by 25 before taking a 54-37 lead at the half.
“They played with much more energy and tempo than we did, and therefore they controlled the first half,” Washington State Coach Ernie Kent said. “It looked like a highlight reel out there.”
“Our players were ready to go,” Enfield said. “We got off to a good start defensively. That was the key to getting our offense and our transition going.”
Nikola Jovanovic, one of five Trojans who scored at least 11 points, led USC with team highs of 20 points and 12 rebounds. Jordan McLaughlin scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half.
“We’re just an improved team now. [More] maturity and more skills,” McLaughlin said.
USC’s total and first-half points, as well as its 52.9% shooting, were all season highs.
"[The Trojans] play with tremendous freedom and poise in their transition game,” Kent said, “and we knew that was the No. 1 thing we needed to stop. I don’t think we did a very good job of it.
“I thought they were exceptional in terms of their confidence, their focus,” he added.
Josh Hawkinson led Washington State (8-5, 0-1 Pac-12) with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Ike Iroegbu, the only other Cougar to score in double figures, had 13.
Hawkinson and Kent said they were encouraged by Washington State’s improved energy and play in the second half. Brett Boese hit a three-pointer to narrow USC’s lead to 87-75 with four minutes to go, but the Cougars’ only other basket came on a last-second dunk by Hawkinson.
Julian Jacobs scored 12 points for USC, and Katin Reinhardt and Elijah Stewart each had 11.