Basketball: USC completes sweep of Arizona, ASU for first time since 1985
The USC basketball team didn't make it look as easy Saturday as the last one, and certainly not as easy as it looked like it was going to be in the first half, but the Trojans ultimately got the job done again while completing the program's first road sweep of Arizona and Arizona State since 1985.
That's not a misprint.
The annual trip through Tucson and Tempe had vexed coach Andy Enfield's program over the years -- and the program overall for much longer -- but two days after closing out a 14-point win at Arizona, the Trojans shook off a huge Arizona State comeback to claim a 73-64 road win over the Sun Devils.
USC (8-2, 3-1 Pac-12) has won three straight conference games overall since dropping its opener to Colorado.
"It's a big road swing to win two games on the road in Arizona -- we hadn't won at either place, we've lost a lot of close games here," Enfield said. "... To win back-to-back games on the road in Arizona is a credit to our program and our players. They came out and played great against Arizona on both ends, and tonight we had our moments -- we didn't play a great game tonight, but we played well enough to win on the road. In this league, you take any win on the road."
Freshman standout Evan Mobley had one of his best games with 19 points, 13 rebounds and a season-high 6 blocks, Tahj Eaddy had 16 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists, Isaiah Mobley added 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Drew Peterson had another versatile performance with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
Like Enfield said, the Trojans had their moments, but it wasn't all pretty.
With Arizona State missing four key players -- veteran leader and second-leading scorer Remy Martin (COVID protocols), starting forward Jalen Graham (mono), part-time starting forward Taeshon Cherry (COVID protocols) and lesser-used reserve guard Jaelen House (COVID protocols) -- USC jumped out to a 36-18 lead with a little more than 2 minutes left in the first half.
And yet by halftime, the Sun Devils had made it a 36-32 game as Holland Woods scored 11 points (and made a big steal) over those final 2 minutes while Alonzo Verge added a 3 as well.
Arizona State (4-5, 1-2) kept the momentum going in the second half, eventually tying the game at 47-47 on a Kimani Lawrence fastbreak layup and again later on a Marcus Bagley 3-pointer midway through the half. Bagley soon got to the line and hit two free throws to give the hosts the first of a couple leads they'd claim the rest of the way.
It remained close until the final minutes, when USC finally broke an ice-cold shooting slump when Evan Mobley kicked out to Peterson for an open 3-pointer from the left side to push the lead to 65-61 with 1:52 to go.
Peterson followed with a close-out block on an ASU 3-pointer, Evan Mobley was immediately fouled and knocked down both free throws, and after another Sun Devils miss Eaddy hit a step-back jumper to push the lead to 69-61 in the final minute.
"Our defense stepped up when we went to the zone late in the game. We had trouble guarding them man-to-man because of the quickness of their guards. We're bigger and they're quicker, so we made some adjustments defensively and I thought that helped us gain the lead and extend it in the last few minutes," Enfield said. "We didn't play a perfect game ... but this is college basketball. This was a great college basketball game. I give them a lot of credit, they played very hard and so did we and we're fortunate to win."
USC was just 3 of 22 from 3-point range and had missed 14 straight before Peterson's big make late. The Trojans shot 39.3 percent from the field overall but made 26 of 32 (81.3 percent) from the foul line. ASU, meanwhile, shot 33.9 percent overall and struggled from the line (15 of 24).
"That just shows our resilience," Enfield said. "We're a defensive-minded team, and you have to win when you're not playing your best at times in this league. It's a grind-it-out season, it's a long season and this was a long game. It felt like this game took about four hours just because of the intensity and the closeness of it in the second half."
As for the roadtrip sweep, Evan Mobley was the catalyst after having 19 points and 11 rebounds vs. Arizona before an even more impressive encore Saturday.
He has looked every bit this week like the 5-star top national prospect he was billed to be upon arrival at USC, and his high ceiling gives the Trojans plenty of collective upside this season as well. Enfield, meanwhile, continued to praise Mobley for just consistently making the right decision -- his assist on that 3 to Peterson was one of the most pivotal plays of the game -- and impacting the game in a variety of ways, like with the 6 blocks in this one.
"Evan has long arms and great timing and he doesn't foul when he does that, so it's a special skill that he has. He's improved a lot defensively since he's been here in just a short period of time. We just need him to keep playing like this," Enfield said.
It's still plenty early, of course, but the two road wins are certainly a boost to USC's NCAA tournament resume. Entering the weekend, ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Trojans projected as one of the last teams into the tournament field.
"They're two good teams we just beat and we beat them on their home court. Now, we play them again at home, so we're not thinking about the tournament resume, although you need some of these wins at the end of the season," Enfield said. "These are two good wins for us. It certainly doesn't get us in the tournament right now, but it's a great start."
USC adds a game to the schedule
The Trojans picked up another game on their schedule and will host UC Riverside at 6 p.m. PT Tuesday in the Galen Center.