No. 15 USC fails to capitalize on late chances in stunning loss to Stanford
Three weeks back from its lengthy layoff, two losses after its undefeated start was spoiled by Stanford, USC seemed to have finally found its footing. The defense that ranked among the nation’s best before its COVID-19 pause was back on track. The last three teams to face USC had limped to the finish line, stunted by its suffocating pressure and buried by a Trojans barrage from the perimeter.
But on Thursday, in a return meeting with Stanford, that effort took USC only so far in a 64-61 defeat, bringing Isaiah Mobley to the stripe with a chance to tie with two free throws.
He hit the first, only for the whistle to blow ahead of his second. A Stanford timeout gave him a full minute to consider what was on the line, but Mobley tried to keep his mind clear. When he returned, Mobley took a deep breath. And clanked the free throw off the back of the rim.
Once more, Mobley had the ball in his hands with a chance to tie. In the corner, an open Boogie Ellis tried to get his attention. But Mobley didn’t see him. A chaotic final sequence had left USC frantic and Mobley lifting off for a deep heave at the buzzer. It clanked off the rim, too.
“I felt like I got a good look,” Mobley said. “It just didn’t go down.”
USC freshman Reese Dixon-Waters has played a crucial role in recent games, earning minutes in a rotation that’s more experienced than last season.
It was a fitting end to a game that could’ve turned in any number of directions. After Stanford came out hot, USC (17-3) dominated over the final stretch of the first half. The two teams traded punches in the second, with the biggest lead of the half stretching to four. But it was the Cardinal who struck last as Harrison Ingram cut through USC’s defense with 33 seconds left, laying in the go-ahead basket.
The defeat was a crippling blow amid a bounce-back stretch for USC, which had won three in a row heading into Thursday. After holding its last three opponents to 35% or less from the field, USC’s defense was exposed by Stanford in the second half. The Cardinal shot 50% after halftime, better even than its shooting output from earlier this month, when the Trojans’ 14-0 start was upended in Palo Alto just as USC tried to find its footing after the COVID pause.
There was no such excuse on Thursday. USC turned the ball over 14 times, its sixth straight game with double-digit turnovers. It was outrebounded, 29-27. And for seven of the final 10 minutes, the Trojans couldn’t manage a single basket from the field, giving Stanford all the chance it needed to cut them down again.
It didn’t seem Stanford would even get that chance early, not after USC flipped a familiar switch in the first half, putting another slow start behind it to fire off a 15-0 run in which the Cardinal missed 12 straight shots.
But that switch short-circuited in the second half.
“We had too many lapses down the stretch,” said Drew Peterson, who finished with a team-high 14 points. “We were playing really good ball before the half. We came out stagnant.”
It wasn’t all that different from the way USC had opened the game, again succumbing to a slow start that required a triumphant comeback. The Trojans had made a habit recently of falling into a hole early, only to climb their way out. On Thursday, that meant handing the Cardinal complete control through the first 10 minutes, with Stanford shooting 73% from the field.
“We can’t come out flat anymore,” said Mobley, who had nine points, seven rebounds and nine assists. “It takes a lot out of us just to come back.”
With three Pac-12 losses in seven games, the Trojans have already tumbled from where they stood after their last loss to Stanford. The question now, after a sweep at the hands of the Cardinal, is whether they have what’s necessary to climb back once again.
“We can’t take these games for granted,” Peterson said. “We gotta really lock in the details.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.