USC, back from coronavirus break, shows no rust in dominant win to tune up for Pac-12
Technically, it was a resumption.
But really, after a 20-day break caused by a confirmed coronavirus case within the USC men’s basketball program, the Trojans’ return to action Tuesday felt more like a renewed beginning to an unpredictable campaign.
If the Trojans were rusty after their three-week layoff — which forced the team to postpone its first two Pac-12 games and cancel two nonconference contests — it didn’t show. They dominated Santa Clara from start to finish in an 86-63 win at Galen Center, improving to 5-1 to complete the nonconference portion of their schedule.
“It was a good team win after three weeks off,” coach Andy Enfield said. “We shared the ball and I thought our defense was good when it needed to be.”
Even without starting point guard Ethan Anderson, who missed a third straight game because of a back injury and, according to Enfield, is questionable for matchups against Colorado on Thursday and Utah on Saturday, the Trojans cruised.
They scored on their opening possession, an Isaiah Mobley layup, and jumped to a 10-point lead within five minutes.
Reese Waters, USC basketball’s top prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, has joined the Trojans and is immediately eligible to play.
Isaiah’s brother, Evan, took over as the game wore on, scoring most of his team-high 17 points around the basket. The rest of USC’s roster followed, pounding the ball inside against an overmatched Santa Clara squad that was added to USC’s slate only on Saturday after its originally scheduled opponent, Loyola Marymount, had to back out because of its own coronavirus issues.
“We thought it was a little risky, but our players want to play basketball,” Enfield said of the last-minute decision to face what had been a 6-1 Broncos team. “This was not considered a tune-up game. We thought we had to really perform to win.”
USC led 41-27 at the intermission despite attempting just one three-pointer in the first half; the Trojans finished the night seven for 14 from deep. They began the second half on a 10-0 run sparked by an Isaiah White inbounds dunk 21 seconds into it. The lead never shrunk to fewer than 17 points the rest of the way.
The Trojans outscored the Broncos 44-26 in the paint. They protected their own rim by blocking seven shots and generating seven steals. Of the 10 Trojans who got on the scoresheet, four cracked double figures: Evan Mobley (who added seven rebounds), Isaiah Mobley (13 points, seven rebounds), Tahj Eaddy (13 points, six rebounds) and Chevez Goodwin (10 points, five rebounds).
Guard Drew Peterson tacked on a team-best nine assists. The Trojans were so far ahead late in the game, Enfield was able to debut newly enrolled guard Reese Waters, the team’s top 2021 recruit who graduated early from Playa del Rey St. Bernard High, and forward Joshua Morgan, a transfer from Long Beach State who was granted a free year of eligibility from the NCAA.
“We just wanted to get a game under our belt before conference, play hard,” White said. “We don’t want to use the three weeks we had off as an excuse.”
Evan Mobley’s 22-point, 11-rebound double-double and Noah Baumann’s 18 points led USC to a 91-56 rout of UC Irvine on Tuesday.
Some players took advantage of the break, in which the Trojans held only one full-contact practice after the positive test was announced Dec. 13. White said he had more time to do yoga, and Isaiah Mobley focused on body-weight workouts.
Whatever they did worked, giving USC something to build upon as the Trojans begin a stretch of four conference games in 11 days.
“Even though we only have one day to prepare for Colorado,” Enfield said, “we thought it was more beneficial just to get back on the court and play a real game before Pac-12.”
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