No. 10 USC rallies to defeat UC Irvine and stay unbeaten on the season

USC forward Isaiah Mobley, center, tries to control the ball against UC Irvine forwards Austin Johnson and Collin Welp.
USC forward Isaiah Mobley, center, tries to control the ball against UC Irvine forwards Austin Johnson, left, and Collin Welp during the second half of the Trojans’ 66-61 win Wednesday at Galen Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A storm was brewing in Los Angeles. Not the record inches of rainfall that fell on the city Tuesday — rather, inside Galen Center, where USC men’s basketball was throwing the ball all over the gym Wednesday night against UC Irvine.

The No. 10-ranked Trojans were clinging to their 10-0 record, one of seven remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball. But the sky was turning an ugly gray. A torrent of turnovers and mental mistakes in the first half threatened to wash that perfect slate clean. Coming out of the halftime break, USC trailed 36-28.

But Isaiah Mobley and Chevez Goodwin dug their way into the paint and staved off the rain for another day. The big-man duo accounted for 45 of USC’s points in a narrow 66-61 victory over Irvine, bruising their way for timely layup after layup to revitalize an uninspired Trojans crowd.


USC’s 11-0 start is its best since a 14-0 run in 2017-18.

For much of the game, it looked as if Irvine would be the team to snap the streak. After USC took an early 12-2 lead, Irvine bounced back with an 11-0 run on its way to the halftime lead.

USC had eight first-half turnovers as passes were thrown out of bounds and pivot foots were shuffled. USC also couldn’t generate any offense off of Irvine’s missed shots. After one solid defensive possession by the Trojans, the normally steady-as-they-come Drew Peterson airmailed a pass three feet over the head of a wide-open Mobley. Coach Andy Enfield paced up and down the sideline, shaking his head.

USC forward Chevez Goodwin pushes past UC Irvine center Bent Leuchten during the first half.
USC forward Chevez Goodwin, bottom, pushes past UC Irvine center Bent Leuchten during the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

At halftime, associate head coach Chris Capko came into the locker room “hot,” Mobley said.

“Coach Enfield and Coach Capko, they were like, ‘We can set you guys up for all this — we can give you the answers to the test, but you’ve got to write them down yourselves,” Mobley said. “So we came out and did that.”

Irvine’s coaches were shouting about Mobley throughout the game, telling their players, “Steal it from Mobley — he can’t dribble!” the big man said.

The Anteaters were unsuccessful in that quest, as Mobley had no turnovers, and they largely failed to stop him from imposing his will. The junior had 11 points in each half on the way to his third straight 20-point double-double, putting together the same mix of outside shooting and bruising interior play that has turned him into one of the top players in the country.

“If he’s not the Pac-12 player of the year right now … I don’t know what we’re doing,” Goodwin said. “He’s been lights-out.”

Goodwin’s night, though, started much more slowly. Missed hook shot. Missed layup. Traveling call. Just a few minutes into the game, Enfield gave him a quick rest in favor of Josh Morgan.


Goodwin put it frankly afterward, saying he played “terribly” in those first three minutes. But he kept his confidence, trying to focus on the entire 40 minutes, he said, and responded with 17 points in the second half.

He was a high-energy force on both ends of the court, stringing together sequences in moments where a basket in the other direction could’ve sent the Trojans spiraling. With 11 minutes left with the score tied, Goodwin stuffed a layup attempt from Irvine center Bent Leucthen, then bounced up to deter another Leuchthen attempt from an offensive rebound. He then drew a foul on the other end.

“When the second half started, he was ready to play,” Enfield said. “He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve ever coached, and he has a passion for the game of basketball.”

With 30 seconds left and the Trojans up by two, the ball was in Mobley’s hands to try to get a basket that would all but seal a USC win.

Mobley dribbled in for a tough layup and missed strong off the backboard, but Goodwin was there for an uncontested putback.

“We kind of needed this game a little bit, just to show us as a team what happens when we’re down a couple points at half,” Goodwin said. “We embraced the challenge.”