UConn holds off USC as Trojans shooting goes ice cold
Everything that went so well for the USC basketball team two days ago against BYU ... didn't Thursday vs. UConn.
Missing injured starting point guard Ethan Anderson, the Trojans went to a zone defense and were roasted early by the Huskies from 3-point range. And after showing a depth of offensive instigators a couple days earlier, USC couldn't get anything to go in down the stretch in this one.
After trimming a double-digit deficit to 4 points, the Trojans missed 12 of their final 13 shots -- including three on the final possession -- as UConn held on for a 61-58 win at the Roman Legends Classic in Uncasville, Conn.
Just as the BYU game was too small a sample size to draw any certain conclusions from, so too is this game -- but it was certainly ugly as the Trojans finished a woeful 3 of 19 from 3-point range for the game and shot 8 of 28 (28.6 percent) from the field overall in the second half.
"We played a good basketball team. It was a tough physical game on both sides and we competed. We shot 3 for 19 [from 3-point range], so that was really the difference in the game," Trojans coach Andy Enfield said afterward. "We had some wide-open looks, Evan [Mobley] got double-teamed in the post quite a few times, he kicked it out and we missed like four open 3s. Games come down sometimes to made and missed shots. We had our chances and they had their chances and it was just one possession too short. So we're not upset of how we competed. I thought we played hard, but we do have to eventually make some shots to win a game like this."
Evan Mobley, the 7-foot, 5-star freshman forward, led USC (3-1) with 17 points and 7 rebounds. He was just 4 of 10 from the field, but he hit 9 of 11 free throws.
Again, the problem Thursday was that there wasn't much else to like about the Trojans' offensive performance.
Drew Peterson, the guard transfer from Rice, had been one of the steadiest players on the roster through the first three games and continued it in the first half with 9 points, but he didn't score again while getting only 2 more shots from the field.
Touted sharpshooter Noah Baumann managed 9 points, but he was just 1 of 5 from 3-point range.
And guard Tahj Eaddy, who took on a bigger role at the point with Anderson out, couldn't get it going offensively while finishing 2 of 8 from the field (1 of 5 on 3s) for 5 points and 1 assist. Anderson is dealing with back issues that limited him to just 9 minutes on Tuesday before sitting out this one.
"In a game of toughness Ethan is one of our toughest players -- you saw that last year. They pressured us, we did a good job -- we only had 5 turnovers for the entire night -- but to have that depth [would have helped]," Enfield said. "Tahj had to play 32 minutes and they pressed him full-court the entire night, and Drew had to play 28, so I thought we wore down a little bit. You saw that late in the game when Tahj missed a couple wide-open 3s -- I think three of them -- and we missed some wide-open 3s. ... So Ethan, just to have that other ball-handler, that depth, his toughness, we really missed him tonight."
Two days after that 79-53 win over BYU, USC found itself trailing by as many as 13 points early in the second half Thursday.
But UConn (3-0), which had hit 6 of 12 3s in the first half wasn't really any better than the Trojans offensively down the stretch and that lead slowly whittled away.
Eaddy's lone 3, a layup by Mobley, two free throws from Max Agbonkpolo and a lsaiah Mobley (7 points and 6 rebounds) accounted for a 9-0 run that made it a 53-49 UConn lead about midway through the half. A score in the paint by Isaiah Mobley got it back to within 4, 58-54, with 8:06 remaining when the Trojans' shooting went ice cold the rest of the way.
Somehow they were still within 3 points of the lead entering their final possession, but Peterson failed to convert on a driving layup, Baumann got a second chance for USC but had his 3-pointer blocked and then Evan Mobley had yet another Trojans opportunity but missed on a 3-pointer from the right wing to end the game.
"He had a wide-open 3 to tie the game. That's not his specialty, but he certainly is developing his 3-point shot. He's already made a couple on the year. Your best player misses a shot to tie the game, I guess you have to live with that," Enfield said.
The younger Mobley is going to be scrutinized more than any player on the team for all the accolades he arrived with at USC, and Enfield was quick to praise his big man Thursday for his physicality, for making the right read out of double teams and finding open teammates, etc. He rejected the notion, which the ESPN broadcast team harped on, that Mobley needed to get more work inside, or be more aggressive.
"Our offense does not come down to throw it to Evan every single time down the court. ... We need a team effort," Enfield said. "As you saw, he got double-teamed. They doubled him and he kicked out, so not only did he have 20 either shot attempts or assists but then he probably had five passes or six passes out of the double team where we missed wide-open shots. He should have had 5 or 6 assists tonight. His usage rate was pretty high tonight, but we need a balanced effort inside-outside. We need a guy to step up and do better than 3-for-19 from the 3, that's for sure, against a team like UConn."
USC returns to the court Tuesday night at home against UC Irvine.