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Boogie Ellis, Isaiah Mobley lead No. 20 USC to win over Utah in Pac-12 opener

USC forward Isaiah Mobley pulls down a rebound against Utah guard Both Gach and guard Lazar Stefanovic.
USC forward Isaiah Mobley pulls down a rebound against Utah guard Both Gach (2) and guard Lazar Stefanovic (20) during the second half Wednesday at Galen Center.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

It’s a quick two-syllable exclamation, uttered so fast it sounds like one. In and out the ear. “Boogie!”

The PA announcer for USC calls it most anytime junior guard Boogie Ellis gets a bucket. If Wednesday night’s season opener of Pac-12 play was any indication, Trojans fans better get used to hearing it at Galen Center.

“We’ve seen it all this year,” junior forward Max Agbonkpolo said with a grin. “When he gets hot, he gets hot.”

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No. 20 USC jumped all over Utah on Wednesday night, riding an eight-point run by Ellis in less than 1:30 of game clock in the first half to run away with a 93-73 win. Talented big Isaiah Mobley added a double-double as the Trojans improved to 7-0.

With a little over two minutes remaining before halftime, USC had largely stifled Utah, but couldn’t quite shake the Utes with a nine-point lead. It was time to Boogie.

Boogie Ellis scored 17 points, Joshua Morgan added 13 and No. 24 USC beat St. Joseph’s 70-55 on Thursday night at the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim.

Six seconds after a Utes layup, Ellis calmly splashed a three. On the Trojans’ next possession, Mobley drove and fired a pass to the right corner for Ellis, who rotated in the air for another shot from distance that hit nothing but twine.

Then came an Ellis breakaway jam, a Mobley bucket, an Ethan Anderson and-one on a fast break; suddenly, the Galen Center was erupting over a 20-point lead.

“After a year of, I call, silence,” Mobley said of the fans’ energy, “it’s extremely fun.”

A transfer from Memphis, where he was the AAC Co-Sixth Man of the Year in 2020-21, Ellis came into Wednesday night averaging nearly 15 points a game.

He scored 19 more against the Utes on a flurry of stop-and-pop jumpers and breakaway dunks, further endearing himself to a Trojans crowd that stood to boo relentlessly when he was called for a flop a few minutes into the second half.

Ellis is the cherry of an addition on top of a deep Trojans team that’s taken strides in development. Last season’s superstar Evan Mobley — Isaiah’s older brother — was taken with the third pick of the NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and second-leading scorer Tahj Eddy is now in the G-League. But these Trojans return nine players from last year’s squad that streaked to the Elite Eight.

Isaiah Mobley tested the NBA draft waters, but elected to return to USC. When he walked into the gym after the draft combine, he said knew instantly these Trojans had potential to be a top team in college basketball.

“I was like, ‘Woah,’” Mobley said. “They didn’t get the championship hangover. I was like, ‘OK, I got better’— if we all can put this together, we can do something special.”

USC forward Max Agbonkpolo celebrates a dunk with guard Boogie Ellis.
USC forward Max Agbonkpolo, left, celebrates a dunk with guard Boogie Ellis during the second half against Utah on Wednesday.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The key to their undefeated run to open the season — their best start since a 14-game win streak in 2016-17 — is a swarming defense that had held opponents to under 32% shooting. That presence was on full display in the first half against Utah.

Mobley’s 7-foot-3 wingspan and verticality forced Utes wings into awkward layup attempts around the rim. Sophomore center Joshua Morgan — who coach Andy Enfield called “one of the best defensive big men we’ve had here at USC” after a Nov. 25 win over Saint Joseph’s — notched four resounding blocks.

By halftime, the Trojans had forced five turnovers and held the Utes to 30% shooting from the floor.

Their intensity waned at times in the second half, leading to open threes for Utah. After the Utes’ leading scorer Branden Carlson exited with an injury in the first half, however, Utah had no answer down low for Mobley, whose two-way efforts in the second half preserved USC’S cushy lead.

“He was a complete player tonight,” coach Andy Enfield said.

A breakaway alley-oop from Ellis to junior forward Max Agbonkpolo late in the second half put an emphatic finishing touch on the night.

Agbonkpolo had an uneven start to his USC career, shooting less than 40% across his first two seasons. But he’s been a difference-maker when Enfield’s inserted him into the starting lineup this season, and he played the best game of his career Wednesday night.

“I love this team,” he said postgame. “I think we’re going to turn a lot of heads — we’re going to go far in the tournament.”

The Utah clash marked a quick start to USC’s play in the Pac-12; in fact, it’s the only league in the country that has begun conference play. The Trojans were ranked third in the Pac-12 entering the season. They’ll take onanother conference opponent off to a strong start Saturday against Washington State (6-1).


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