USC men’s basketball team defeats Montana, takes care of what it can control

USC coach Andy Enfield signals during the second half of a game March 7, 2020, in Los Angeles.
USC coach Andy Enfield, pictured in March, said after his team’s 76-62 win that, given the circumstances, it’s a “privilege to be out there on the court.”
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Andy Enfield had enough to worry about.

The USC men’s basketball coach was already navigating a season of spectator-less stands and a stripped-down schedule. His team is in transition, trying to replace eight of last season’s 11 leading scorers.

The Trojans cleared their latest obstacle comfortably Saturday night, cruising past the Montana Grizzlies 76-62 at Galen Center. But a day earlier, another hurdle might have been thrown in their path in the form of a new stay-at-home order in Los Angeles County that offered few specifics regarding college sports.


“We just follow the lead of our athletic department and USC as a whole,” Enfield said. “They communicate with the county. I don’t get involved with that. We just run our basketball program as best we can given the circumstances.”

The order, which will take effect Monday and last for three weeks, prohibits all public and private gatherings with individuals not from the same household. Exceptions were made for religious services and protests. The fate of local college athletics, however, was left shrouded in uncertainty.

Key plays from the USC men’s basketball team’s 76-62 win over Montana on Saturday night at Galen Center.

“We know there’s a lot of people around the country, around the world suffering,” Enfield said. “We have some advantages to allow us to be able to participate in college athletics right now. We’re just trying to do our best and understand it’s an opportunity and a privilege to be out there on the court. Let’s try to take advantage of it.”

USC did that Saturday, bouncing back from Wednesday’s narrow season-opening overtime win against Cal Baptist by jumping out to an early lead against a Montana team making its season debut.

The Trojans scored 32 of the game’s first 40 points, including three separate 7-0 scoring runs and a 9-0 spurt in the first 13 minutes.

They made 10 of their first 13 shots, seven of which were assisted.

And they had nine players score before halftime, needing only two first-half points from five-star freshman forward Evan Mobley to build a 44-25 lead at the intermission.

Evan Mobley, the highest-ranked recruit ever to choose USC, is looking forward to playing alongside his brother and making big plays for the Trojans.

“We have a really unselfish team and it’s showing so far,” said junior guard Drew Peterson, who scored a team-high 13 points. “I think we’re on the right track.”

Mobley finished as the Trojans’ second-leading scorer, tallying nine of his 11 points in the second half while also collecting seven rebounds.

Yet, he didn’t have a bucket until finishing a two-handed dunk through traffic almost nine minutes into the game. By then, USC was already ahead by 15.

“They did a great job of sharing the basketball,” Enfield said. “Evan made some very nice passes, but he draws so much attention. The rest of our players did a great job offensively.”

The Trojans cooled off down the stretch (USC shot 32% from the field in the second half to finish 50% for the game), yet never let Montana get closer than 12 points over the final 32 minutes.

“When we’re playing as a unit, our talent can take us to levels that can win us a Pac-12 championship,” Peterson said. “We know that.”

What the Trojans don’t yet know is how restrictive the county’s new orders will be for their team.

Not only is USC’s game against Colorado canceled, but next week’s matchup with Washington State might not be played either.

USC’s immediate plans shouldn’t be impacted. The team is scheduled to travel to Uncasville, Conn., on Sunday for the Legends Classic, where they will face Brigham Young on Tuesday and then either Connecticut or Vanderbilt on Thursday.

After that, however, the Trojans have three home games scheduled between Dec. 8-16, including their Pac-12 opener against Stanford on Dec. 13. That stretch was also supposed to provide important practice time for a team still integrating four new starters into its lineup.

“We’re trying to understand our team because we have so many new players,” Enfield said. “We didn’t have a [normal] preseason. We didn’t have a summer to evaluate them, to work on their skills, to put them in our system, to really get a good feel.”

But now, Enfield is facing one more potential restriction in a season already causing unprecedented headaches.

Saturday’s first half was an exhibition of the Trojans’ potential. Everything else that’s unfolded the last several days is a reminder of how much remains outside of their control.