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Evan Mobley and USC let Pac-12 opener slip away in loss to Colorado

USC's Evan Mobley is fouled by Colorado's D'Shawn Schwartz during the first half of Thursday's game.
USC’s Evan Mobley, center, is fouled by Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz, right, during the first half of the Trojans’ 72-62 loss Thursday at Galen Center.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Evan Mobley kept waiting and waiting for an opportunity to assert his dominance in his first taste of Pac-12 play. But in the most physical game the star freshman has played at USC, that chance he was waiting for never came as Colorado imposed its will down low.

Entry passes were denied. Work around the basket was thwarted. Easy, low-post shots were missed.

The star freshman had spent the previous month quietly establishing himself as the centerpiece of USC’s offense. But as conference play began and the physicality ratcheted up on New Year’s Eve, Mobley had his most frustrating game yet. He wasn’t the only one.

In the freshman’s quietest performance of the season, Mobley and the rest of the Trojans missed their chance to establish a foothold at the start of conference play in a frustrating 72-62 loss to start the Pac-12 season.

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It was Tahj Eaddy, the transfer from Santa Clara, who did his best to will USC back into the game late by making three-pointers. Starting at point guard in place of Ethan Anderson, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a back injury, Eaddy hit four of USC’s nine three-pointers and led the team with 16 points and five assists.

One of those three-pointers sparked a second-half Trojans run that saw USC cut the lead to just two points with under 10 minutes remaining.

As Mobley swatted a lay-in on the other end, USC jump-started its transition offense, and Eaddy hit a three, just as Chevez Goodwin was fouled underneath.

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Goodwin hit two free throws, and after trailing by 11 at the half, USC was suddenly within reach.

But that narrow deficit was short-lived. USC missed 11 of its next 12 shots, and its star freshman was shut down, finishing with only 12 points on five of 14 shooting.

Colorado's McKinley Wright IV, bottom left, battles USC's Isaiah Mobley, right, and Isaiah White.
Colorado’s McKinley Wright, bottom left, battles USC’s Isaiah White, center, and Isaiah Mobley for the ball during the second half of the Trojans’ 72-62 loss Thursday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

USC coach Andy Enfield blamed himself for that uneven performance from Mobley, saying he played him too many minutes early on.

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“I think he got a little winded,” Enfield said.

But Enfield also agreed that his freshman had to play better with all the chances he was given. After scoring eight points in the first half, he had just four points in the second.

“He struggled a little bit tonight,” Enfield said. “But he’s a freshman, he’s learning. For us to beat a good team, we need better production from everyone on our roster.”

But for the Trojans to go anywhere this season, they’ll need much better play from Mobley. When asked if he could draw up more opportunities for his freshman, Enfield put the onus on Mobley to take advantage.

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“We got everything we wanted as far as schematically,” Enfield said. “We gave the ball to him in the post. We gave it to him on top. We gave it to him on ball screens and had him roll to the rim. We loaded him up tonight.”

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Very few of the opportunities came to fruition, especially in the second half. While USC’s defense clamped down on a Colorado offense that was running wild early on, its offense ground to a halt just as Mobley went quiet.

“We got a lot of looks late, but we weren’t knocking them down,” said guard Drew Peterson, who had just four points.

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Like his brother, Isaiah Mobley was mostly ineffective after the half, as Colorado bullied him underneath. He scored just two points in the second half, leaving USC with little to no production from its frontcourt.

That meant USC had to shoot its way out of a deficit, if it had any hope of ending 2020 on a positive note. But as shot after shot clanked off the rim, the Trojans managed to shoot just 32% in the second half.

“We had our chances,” Enfield said, “but we just had to step up.”


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