USC drowns Ducks with sea of threes, ending 20-year Elite Eight wait

USC guard Isaiah White celebrates after making a basket against Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
USC guard Isaiah White celebrates after making a basket against Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Defense had always been its calling card. When the threes weren’t falling and its offense wasn’t clicking and the sloppy mistakes threatened to sink USC, defense was the one thing Andy Enfield could consistently depend on. The coach rebuilt his roster ahead of his eighth season with that intimidating image in mind, stockpiling size and doubling up on length, all in hopes that the rest of its talented pieces would come together at the right moment.

That moment has now stretched through four magical, unexpected weeks of March. It bulldozed right past Drake, ran right through Kansas, and on Sunday in the Sweet 16, rolled right over the top of Oregon, drowning the Ducks in a sea of threes and tangled Trojans arms at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. What began as a simmering rematch to rewrite the Pac-12 title for USC quickly became a stunning 82-68 beatdown on its way to the Elite Eight, its first time so deep in March since 2001.

“This is a big moment in USC basketball,” Enfield said. “It’s our second Elite Eight in the last 60 years. This is a huge win for our players, our program.”


With its defense dominating and its unexpected offense soaring, arguably no team has proved more powerful than USC through three rounds of the NCAA tournament. No one except perhaps for top overall seed Gonzaga, this season’s juggernaut, which awaits USC in the next round.

USC will play top-seeded Gonzaga and UCLA will play Michigan in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday.

March 28, 2021

But the undefeated Bulldogs, with their litany of NBA talent, have yet to face a defense quite like USC’s. After holding both Drake and Kansas to just 29% shooting, USC suffocated Oregon in nearly the same manner, stifling its guards with size and crowding the paint with its length. Even a strong start couldn’t save the Ducks, who shot just 37% overall and 24% from the three-point line, which had been their bread and butter on the way to the Sweet 16.

For USC, that run continued Sunday just as confidently as it began, carrying USC further than anyone in their right mind could’ve expected at the start of March.

But the Trojans proved again just how thoroughly they’d been underestimated. A season that started with the media picking USC sixth in its own conference has now left the Trojans as one of eight teams still standing. Three of those teams are from the Pac-12, which has spent this March rewriting its own recent history.

Highlights from USC’s win over Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.

“Everyone doubted us,” USC guard Isaiah White said. “Once we found out they had us at sixth in the Pac-12, I think we really came together, just to prove everyone wrong.”


That revenge tour was already a wild success ahead of Sunday, even before USC locked down on defense midway through the first half. As Oregon found its rhythm early, Enfield chose to switch to a zone to contain its bevy of guards.

“When they’re small, I didn’t think we could guard them man to man and win the game,” Enfield said.

The adjustment turned out to be all USC (25-7) would need to turn up the pressure. Suddenly, Oregon could barely manage to get a shot off. Every drive was stopped dead by USC’s size in the lane. Every ball screen was stifled by the Trojans’ unusual length. As Oregon passed and passed and passed around the perimeter, there were no openings to be found in the paint.

USC's Evan Mobley dunks over Oregon's Franck Kepnang during the second half of the Trojans' 82-68 win.
USC’s Evan Mobley dunks over Oregon’s Franck Kepnang during the second half of the Trojans’ 82-68 win in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 on Sunday.
(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

That’s when USC found its stroke on the other end. The Trojans had started off with a pair of airballs, missing four of its first five from the field. But once the nervous energy of USC’s first Sweet 16 appearance wore off, they came alive again.

Tahj Eaddy, who hit six threes in their first meeting, pulled up in transition from deep with 11:28 left, giving USC its first lead. Isaiah White followed with a three of his own.


The two transfers had mostly taken a backseat over the past month, cooling off from previous hot streaks. They’d deferred largely to Evan and Isaiah Mobley, for whom Oregon again had no match for on the interior.

USC faces its biggest challenge of the season Tuesday when it plays 29-0 Gonzaga. Because of Evan Mobley, the Trojans have a real shot at victory.

March 29, 2021

There would be no deferring on Sunday. White had scored in double figures just twice since the start of February, but against Oregon, he exploded for a season-high 22 points. Eaddy, meanwhile, added 20, his first time scoring that many since USC’s previous win over Oregon, when he scored 24.

“We weren’t backing down,” White said. “We came out kind of flat, and they were leaving certain people open. I just wanted to let them know we weren’t letting down. We were going to come at you and keep battling.”

With just under four minutes remaining, that fight seemed like it may fade. A 9-0 Oregon run cut the lead to nine as USC’s stifling defense let up ever so slightly. But after all the obstacles they’d overcome, after all the slights they’d faced over the course of this season, USC simply refused to come unraveled.

Eaddy, their fearless floor general all season, stepped up to the three-point line and sunk the dagger, extending the Trojans’ unlikely run.

“All I know is this team is special,” White said. “We believe we can beat anybody.”

Game recap


USC 82, Oregon 68 (final)

Evan Mobley threw down a monstrous, two-handed dunk with 2:52 remaining that seemed to put an exclamation point on USC’s win.

Eugene Omoruyi makes two free throws to keep Oregon within 12 with less than 3 minutes remaining. After Mobley made two free throws, Frank Kepnang and Max Agbonkpolo exchanged dunks on either end of the floor.

Tahj Eaddy made a pair of free throws for an 80-64 lead with under 2 minutes remaining. Kepnang got a layup and was fouled at 1:30. He missed the free throw, USC up by 14.
Max Agbonkpolo made two free throws. Kepnang got a dunk to close out the scoring.

USC 72, Oregon 60 (3:20 left in second half)

Franck Kepnang pulls Oregon to within 13 with a layup. Eugene Omoruyi tips it in for the Ducks, who are on a 9-0 run. Omoruyi got another tip in to bring Oregon to within nine points, but Tahj Eaddy hit a three-pointer to break a Trojans scoring drought that lasted more than five minutes.

USC 69, Oregon 54 (7:35 left in second half)

Isaiah Mobley got a third-chance layup. Eugene Omoruyi made two free throws. Isaiah White hit a layup. Isaiah Mobley got fouled on a layup and completed the three-point player for a 21-point USC lead with less than 10-minutes remaining.

Omoruyi made a jumper and free throw. Max Agbonkpolo hit a layup for USC, Oregon’s Chris Duarte got a three-pointer and Agbonkpolo answered with a three-pointer of his own. Duarte made three free throws. Omoruyi got a tip shot for Oregon.


USC 57, Oregon 41 (13:01 left in second half)

LJ Figueroa made a jumper and Chris Duarte got a layup to pull Oregon to within 52-39. Isaiah White got a fast-break layup on a goal-tending call, then hit his fifth three-pointer of the game. Eugene Omoruyi hit a layup before an Oregon timeout.

USC 52, Oregon 35 (15:37 left in second half)

Will Richardson opened the second-half scoring with a three-pointer for Oregon. Isaiah Mobley got a second-chance basket for USC. Chris Duarte drove for a layup. Tahj Eaddy hit a running layup and drew the foul. He completed the three-point play. Duarte hit a jumper for Oregon. Isaiah White hit another three-pointer for a 49-32 USC lead at the 17-minute mark.

Drew Peterson added a three-pointer to put the Trojans up by 20. USC is hitting 58% from three-point range. Eugene Omoruyi hit a three-pointer for the Ducks.

USC forward Evan Mobley grabs a rebound in front of Oregon guard Chris Duarte.
USC forward Evan Mobley grabs a rebound in front of Oregon guard Chris Duarte.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

USC 41, Oregon 26 (halftime)

Tahj Eaddy went quick to the basket for a layup, giving the Trojans a 15-point lead at halftime. He has 12 points tonight, as does Isaiah White .

USC 39, Oregon 26 (0:56 left in first half)

Evan Mobley hit a jumper for a 14-point Trojan lead. Oregon’s Eugene Omoruyi made three of three free throws. Tahj Eaddy drove in for a layup. Isaiah Mobley got a putback for a 15-point USC lead with just over 1:30 left. LJ Figueroa hit a jumper.


USC 33, Oregon 21 (3:47 left in first half)

Drew Peterson made a three-pointer for a 12-point Trojan lead. Tahj Eaddy got a layup for a 12-0 USC run. Oregon missed 11 of last 12 shots before got a steal and a dunk.

USC guard Tahj Eaddy drives between Oregon guard LJ Figueroa, left, and guard Will Richardson.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

USC 28, Oregon 19 (5:57 left in first half)

Isaiah White fed by Evan Mobley for a layup. Tahj Eaddy drained another three-pointer.

USC 23, Oregon 19 (6:40 left in first half)

USC’s Ethan Anderson hit a falling, underhand layup. Chris Duarte hit a layup to break a 3-minute drought for Oregon. Evan Mobley answered with a dunk.


USC 19, Oregon 17 (10:20 left in first half)

Chris Duarte hit a three-pointer for Oregon, and USC’s Isaiah White followed with a putback and completed the three-point play, 10-9 Oregon. Will Richardson hit a straight-away three-pointer. USC’s Isaiah Mobley got a dunk on an assist from his brother. Duarte and Mobley exchanged layups. Tahj Eaddy hit a three-pointer for USC’s first lead of the game, 16-15. Eric Williams Jr. got a layup for Oregon, and USC’s White answered with a three-pointer. He has 10 points already.

Oregon 7, USC 6 (15:20 left in first half)

Oregon’s Eugene Omoruyi scored the first five points of the game on a three-pointer and a layup. Isaiah White has four points for the Trojans, including a three-pointer at 15:43.