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USC needs to turn its fortunes around before season slips away

USC guard Jonah Mathews dribbles the ball against Arizona State during the first half of a game Feb. 8, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated USC 66-64.
USC guard Jonah Mathews dribbles the ball against Arizona State during the first half of a game Feb. 8, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated USC 66-64.
(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

Even as the turnovers have spiked and the perimeter shots have bricked and the inconsistent offense has generally gone awry, coach Andy Enfield has managed to keep the USC men’s basketball team from spiraling.

When the Trojans lost by 22 points to Marquette in November, they responded by reeling off six straight victories. After they lost by 32 to Washington in January, they won five of the next six. The loss was in double overtime in Oregon.

Until a nightmarish visit to Arizona last weekend, USC hadn’t lost consecutive games all season.

But as Washington makes the return trip to USC on Thursday, the Trojans have lost three in a row, leaving them in serious danger of spiraling for the first time this season. With the Pac-12 Conference entering a crucial stretch and so few opportunities remaining to add to its tournament resume, USC can’t afford to let its season get any further off track.

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Which makes for a particularly unfortunate time for the Trojans (17-7 overall, 6-5 Pac-12) to be without their leading scorer, freshman center Onyeka Okongwu, as well as backup point guard Kyle Sturdivant.

USC forward Alissa Pili is used to competition, being the second of eight children. In her freshman season, she’s become the Trojans’ leading scorer and rebounder.

Okongwu, who did not practice this week, is considered “day to day” for Thursday, while Sturdivant remains with his family in Georgia after the death of his father, Gary, last week.

The Trojans are coming off a frustrating, second-half meltdown at Arizona State, in which they turned the ball over 16 times and blew a late lead, despite holding the Sun Devils without a field goal for nearly 11 minutes in the second half.

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Now, they’ll face off with the Huskies (12-12, 2-9), who held them to 40 points on 20% shooting in a defeat that Enfield suggested this week “set basketball back 50 years.”

“When we’re bad, we’re bad,” Enfield said. “Really bad.”

The prevailing question now is how to pull USC out of that potential postseason death spiral before it’s too late.

It’s a task that’s often eluded Enfield in his previous six seasons with the Trojans. USC is 14-34 in the month of February during Enfield’s tenure, with a losing streak of at least three games in every February since he took the job.

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Enfield brushed off the significance of that record, noting that he “could care less” how past teams performed this time of year.

USC has only three Quadrant 1 wins in nine chances, with three more such games remaining on its schedule.

“If we’re going to make a run here,” Enfield said, “we just need consistency from everyone that’s on the court.”

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That’s often been easier said than done, and no game was more indicative of that inconsistency than the two-point loss to Arizona State. As the Trojans studied film from the game this week, Enfield forced them to watch every one of their 24 turnovers multiple times over.

“We know turnovers are our biggest problem,” freshman Isaiah Mobley said.

In fact, their turnover issues have never been worse, as the Trojans rank 278th in the nation in turnover percentage.

“It’s one of those things where players have to grow up and keep getting better,” Enfield said. “We’re putting them in position to succeed. No team goes through a season without failing at some point.”

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UP NEXT

VS. WASHINGTON

When: Thursday, 6 p.m.

Where: Galen Center.

On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: 790.

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Update: After losing three straight, USC finds itself in desperate need of a bounce-back weekend. Normally, a matchup against the Pac-12’s last-place team would seem like a soft landing spot, but the Trojans suffered a 32-point blowout at Washington in January. But since that game, the Huskies have lost eight of nine.


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