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Column: USC has the goods to topple unbeaten Gonzaga and reach the Final Four

USC's Evan Mobley, left, looks to pass as he's guarded by Oregon's Franck Kepnang.
USC’s Evan Mobley, left, looks to pass as he’s guarded by Oregon’s Franck Kepnang during the Trojans’ Sweet 16 win Sunday in the NCAA tournament.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

The possibility was always there, just not anywhere near the forefront of anyone’s mind.

Over the first three rounds of this NCAA tournament, every dunk by the Mobley brothers, every three-pointer by Isaiah White and every uncomfortable shot taken by an opponent has nudged viewers from around the country to consider what once existed only in the realm of fantasy.

USC can beat Gonzaga.

The Trojans have the size to frustrate the Bulldogs on Tuesday. They have the defense to stop them and the momentum to overcome them.

Gonzaga should consider itself warned, especially after USC’s 82-68 victory over Oregon on Sunday night in Indianapolis.

The Trojans have already made school history by reaching the Elite Eight for the second time in the last 66 years but should look at this as their starting line. They are talented enough to advance to the Final Four. They are playing well enough to win the tournament for the first time.

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USC used its dominant defense and continued its surprising offensive surge to power past Oregon 82-68 and into the the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament.

UCLA might be Los Angeles’ college basketball darling, but USC is the city’s only legitimate championship hope.

“I don’t know what everyone else is saying,” White said. “All I know is that this team is special. We believe we could beat anybody.”

Anybody, including the Bulldogs, who are 29-0 and have looked unstoppable this tournament.

In freshman guard Jalen Suggs, senior forward Corey Kispert and sophomore forward Drew Timme, they have three projected first-round picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

With an average of almost 92 points per game, they have the most potent offense in the nation.

Under longtime coach Mark Few, they are smart but also explosive in transition.

About the only kind of team that could stand up to them is a team like, well, USC.

The Trojans have limited their opponents to fewer than 65 points per game this season.

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

In the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, they held Drake and Kansas to 29% shooting. The Ducks fared better on Sunday, but not by much. Oregon made fewer than 38% of its field goals, including 30.3% in the first half.

Against the Bulldogs, the Trojans will continue to have an advantage they have enjoyed in virtually every game this season. They will have the best player on the floor.

Evan Mobley scored 17 points in his tournament opener against Drake, but the number of double teams he has attracted since limited him to 10 points in the wins over Kansas and Oregon.

Which hasn’t diminished Mobley’s importance to the offense.

Mobley has led the Trojans in assists in their last two games, with five against Kansas and six against Oregon.

“That just goes to show you how unselfish Evan Mobley is and what a great player he is,” coach Andy Enfield said. “He takes what the defense gives. He has confidence in his teammates and that goes throughout the whole team. When your most talented offensive player is your most unselfish and willing passer, you can win a lot of games like that.”

Ordinarily, teams are rewarded when they force the ball out of the hands of their opponent’s best player. USC’s three-point shooting has turned common sense upside down.

Under coach Mick Cronin, UCLA channels great Bruins of the past — Kareem, Wooden and Walton — and wills its way into the Elite Eight of NCAA tournament.

The increased involvement on offense of Mobley’s older brother, 6-foot-10 sophomore Isaiah, has created something of a Twin Towers effect, creating openings on the perimeter for the likes of White, Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson.

Starting in the Pac-12 tournament, the Trojans have made 47.1% of their threes, including 10 of 17 against Oregon.

This could very well be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Enfield and USC. Evan Mobley was already viewed as a one-and-done player before the season started. The question now is whether Isaiah Mobley has improved his draft stock to where he would also consider leaving school early.

The obstacle in front of the Trojans is significant. Reaching their first Final Four in 67 years will require them to do what no other team has done this season. Then again, none of Gonzaga’s previous opponents were as talented as the Trojans and none were playing as well as they are now.


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