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USC is giving Drew Peterson the green light, reminding him he’s a scorer at heart

USC guard Drew Peterson shoots over UCLA guard Johnny Juzang
USC guard Drew Peterson (13) shoots over UCLA guard Johnny Juzang (3) on Feb. 12 in Los Angeles.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)
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When the dismantling of UCLA was done and Drew Peterson’s stunning career-best night was complete late last Saturday, Brian Zyrkowski flipped on the tape of the last time he saw the former Libertyville guard completely take over a game.

Zyrkowski would never forget how those final four minutes of the 2018 Illinois Class 4A regional title game unfolded. Libertyville High, which hadn’t won a regional in 15 years, trailed Conant by 15. The situation was grim. But Peterson was just getting started.

He pulled up from the three-point line on three straight possessions, sinking each. He hit a teammate for an open jumper on his next trip down, then tipped in the following possession off an offensive rebound. Almost singlehandedly, Peterson forced overtime. Then, with time expiring in the extra period, he hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer with a hand in his face to win.

Reliving that performance, Peterson says he “couldn’t even believe the zone I was in.”

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Drew Peterson had 27 points and 12 rebounds, and the Trojans held on for a 67-64 win over the Bruins despite playing without an injured Isaiah Mobley.

His high school coach wasn’t surprised to see him enter the zone against UCLA this past week.

“That’s Drew Peterson,” Zyrkowski said this week. “When he knows he has to take over a game, he’ll find a way to do it.”

That was certainly the case Saturday, with USC forced to take on its crosstown rival without leading scorer Isaiah Mobley, who sat out with concussion symptoms. An ineffective Boogie Ellis made matters even more dire, as the Trojans point guard had his worst game of the season against UCLA, missing all seven of his shots from the field.

Peterson more than filled those shoes Saturday, scoring 27 points, pulling in 12 rebounds, blocking five shots and dishing four assists.

But he hasn’t always stepped into that role so confidently at USC. Just a week before he blew past UCLA, Peterson was mired in a shooting slump, having hit just three of his previous 23 shots.

It’s not the only time the senior guard has had to work his way out of a difficult stretch during his two seasons at USC. Last season, a tough midseason slump saw Peterson benched for a brief stretch after he shot just 25% during a seven-game stretch.

During past slumps, Peterson said, his confidence has sometimes wavered.

When it comes to sideline attire, USC men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield and UCLA coach Mick Cronin have different tastes and philosophies.

“I tend to be a guy that prides myself on being an efficient player who does a little bit of everything,” Peterson said. “So when I’m not being efficient, I’ve gone into a hole in the past.”

That shouldn’t be a problem after Saturday, USC coach Andy Enfield said.

“He has all the confidence in the world,” Enfield said. “He just needs to go out and play basketball consistently at the level he’s capable of.”

At Libertyville, Zyrkowski said Peterson was often selfless to a fault. The coach sometimes had to remind his star player to be more selfish and look for his shot.

Peterson needed similar reminders at USC, even one as recently as Saturday night.

USC coach Andy Enfield believes this season’s team has scorers, but the problem has been the inconsistency of stepping up when needed.

“I actually passed up an early three against UCLA and [USC assistant] coach [Chris] Capko told me, ‘You have to shoot that next time,’” Peterson recalled.

He didn’t miss any more of those opportunities on Saturday, and he should have plenty more down the stretch of the season as USC continues to search for consistency on the offensive end.

Assuming he’s cleared from concussion protocol, Mobley is expected to return on Thursday night against Washington. Ellis should also bounce back from his worst game of the season. But as USC enters a crucial stretch of its schedule, with Arizona and Oregon looming along with a rematch with UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, the presence of another consistent scoring option could make a major difference come March.

The only question now is whether Peterson can keep this up.

“What you saw the other night is what Drew can do,” Zyrkowski said. “I’ve seen it myself.”

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