USC basketball hits crunch time: What to watch for in Trojans’ final three games

USC forward Isaiah Mobley drives to the basket in front of Oregon State forward Warith Alatishe.
USC forward Isaiah Mobley drives to the basket in front of Oregon State forward Warith Alatishe during the Trojans’ 94-91 win in double overtime Thursday. The Trojans close out the regular season against Oregon, Arizona and UCLA.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

It took a second-half surge to escape Pacific, a buzzer-beater to best Washington State and two overtimes to take down Oregon State. But after three close calls to inferior teams during the last two weeks, USC enters the final stretch of its schedule with a record number of wins — and plenty still to prove.

With Thursday night’s 94-91, double-overtime victory in Corvallis, the Trojans tied the program’s regular-season record with 24 wins. They also clinched a crucial first-round bye in the conference tournament. Two more wins would assure USC of a second-place finish in the Pac-12.

The Trojans have lost just one game this month, avoiding their usual February skid. And with the other teams atop the Pac-12 — Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA — on tap during their next three games, the time to iron out any lingering issues has arrived.


Here are three factors to watch over USC’s final three games:


Free-throw shooting

USC forward Max Agbonkpolo shoots against Oregon State on Thursday.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

When USC started its conference slate, there was no question about the Trojans’ most glaring offensive weakness. Through its first 23 games, USC knocked down just 63.7% of its attempts from the stripe, a total that today would rank in the bottom five in all of college basketball.

But during their five-game win streak, the Trojans have been a totally different team at the line. They’ve hit 78.4% of theirattempts, better than any other team in the conference.

Over the last two games, USC has been even better, knocking down 40 of 50 in games it won by a total of five points.

“That’s helped us with some of these ugly games,” Isaiah Mobley said Wednesday, “and I think it’s going to help us coming up, going into the tournament and the postseason.”


Drew Peterson had 24 points as No. 16 USC extended its winning streak to five games, beating Oregon State 94-91 in double-overtime.

Feb. 24, 2022


Offensive consistency

USC forward Chevez Goodwin celebrates with guard Isaiah White.
USC forward Chevez Goodwin (1) celebrates with guard Isaiah White (5) after making a basket against Washington on Feb. 17.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

What won’t help is an offense that’s stagnant everywhere else.

While its defense has remained relatively strong all season, USC’s offense has been consistent only in its inconsistency.

After dominating the glass early in the season, USC was outdone on the offensive boards in four straight games before Thursday night’s win over Oregon State.

That same stretch also corresponded with a sharp rise in turnovers, as USC has averaged 13.6 giveaways during its last five games. The Trojans turned the ball over 17 times in their double-overtime win over Oregon State, their second-highest total of the season. The Beavers scored 25 points off those turnovers, nearly upending USC because of them.

“Our ceiling has certainly not been reached offensively,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We have a lot of growth to do at times.”


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.

Feb. 23, 2022


Another Mobley takeover?

USC forward Isaiah Mobley reacts after scoring a basket against Oregon State on Thursday.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

It was this time last year that Mobley finally came alive, suddenly finding his stroke from the three-point line and emerging as a reliable offensive threat alongside his younger brother, Evan.

While Evan has gone on to become the favorite for NBA rookie of the year, Mobley has deftly carried on the role of primary scorer most of this season. The question is whether he can take that role to another level in the postseason, when USC will need him most.

He certainly looked capable Thursday, kicking into a new gear in the first overtime against Oregon State. Mobley scored 19 points, tied for his second-highest total of the new year. But the junior forward hasn’t hit a three-pointer since Feb. 5.

USC has successfully spread its scoring around, but eventually its stars have to perform. Mobley will be a crucial part of any postseason run, if he can find his rhythm again.