Battle-tested USC basketball is chasing elusive dominant wins over Oregon schools
In the aftermath of one of this season’s strangest victories, Andy Enfield peered down at USC’s statline last Sunday, perplexed.
“This,” the USC coach said, “is a unique box score.”
USC had given up 15 three-pointers to Washington State, five more than any game all season. The Trojans had nearly twice as many turnovers (14) as assists (eight). They were outrebounded 41-34 and scored just 62 points, among the fewest they’d earned in a game all season. And in spite of it all, they came away with the win, thanks to a terrific defensive effort and a Boogie Ellis buzzer-beater.
It was an especially odd path to victory, one USC would probably prefer not to venture down again as it heads to Oregon and Oregon State this weekend for its final road trip of the regular season. But as the Trojans have soared to 23 wins, good for their best start since 1974, they’ve gotten pretty used to winning in unusual — and often, ugly — ways. And with the postseason fast approaching, those otherwise unseemly victories along the way may just help keep USC alive come March.
“A 31-game schedule, you’re not going to have your A-game every night,” Enfield said Wednesday. “When you don’t have your A-game, that usually separates the teams at the top of the standings and elsewhere. The teams at the top of the standings find ways to win games, a lot of close games.”
USC has found plenty of new ways to win in spite of itself this season. It beat San Diego State in November despite hitting just six of 18 free throws, and Arizona State earlier this month despite shooting just 30% from the field. USC has won with four different leading scorers and won four games with 14 or more turnovers. It has won starting slow, and it has won finishing fast.
As Enfield sees it, that’s a skill in itself.
“Especially with the tournament coming up, that plays in our favor,” Isaiah Mobley said.
The Pac-12 voting ‘no’ on the College Football Playoff expansion at the moment was a big blow for the SEC and opens the door to playoff equity.
The most unfavorable path for USC actually appears to be the one it took last Sunday. In all four of the Trojans’ losses this season, their opponent has shot 40% or better from behind the arc.
The last time they met, Oregon State nearly upended USC at the three-point line, as it shot nearly 53%.
“That’s a point of emphasis going into this road trip,” Enfield said. “We have to guard the three-point line and make it more challenging. Oregon State made nine and Oregon made 10 on us.”
College Park calling?
As USC enters a crucial stretch of its season, rumors persist connecting its head coach to the vacant job at Maryland.
Enfield didn’t answer directly when asked on Wednesday if Maryland had contacted him about its coaching job, which has been open since December. But he said that he spoke briefly to his staff about the rumors, noting only that any outside interest “means that our coaching staff and our players have done a good job.”
“That’s really what we think about when some rumors are floated out there,” Enfield said. “I just think of our players and staff of how they’ve built this program not just in the last couple years but over the last six or seven years. So really, we’re just focusing up. We’re not letting any distractions get in the way of what we’re trying to do here.”
In his ninth season, Enfield has guided the Trojans to 20-win seasons in six of the past seven years. A trip to the Elite Eight last season prompted USC to extend Enfield’s contract through the 2025-26 season.
Last week, after a win over Washington, Enfield denied a report that he and USC athletic director Mike Bohn had a strained relationship. In an interview with The Times last month, Bohn said Enfield had proven himself to be “an elite coach”.
“It’s been a lot of fun working with him because he’s so gung-ho and passionate about basketball,” Enfield said of Bohn. “So I can’t say enough about our administration and our marketing department.”
Boogie Ellis hits a midrange buzzer-beater with less than a second remaining to give No. 17 USC a 62-60 win over Washington State.
Point guard Ellis left practice on Wednesday on crutches after landing on a teammate’s foot. But Enfield said he expects Ellis to be ready to go against Oregon State on Thursday. …
After playing two games with a protective mask covering his broken nose, Mobley said he’ll no longer be wearing it. “The mask is retired,” he added. “I’m happy it’s gone.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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