Grinding Gears: USC men’s basketball is coming together

first_imgEric He is a senior writing about USC sports. He is also the features editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Mondays. The Galen Center, the site of all three victories, was rocking by USC standards. If this keeps up, students may actually start caring about basketball. Following two losses to the Oregon schools on the road, USC has suddenly vaulted itself into the Pac-12 conversation with a 5-2 conference record, tied with Utah for second and trailing only undefeated Washington, whom the Trojans will play on Wednesday. One can sense the positive energy that comes with victory. A month ago, this was a USC team that looked discombobulated, lacked confidence and most importantly, didn’t seem happy to be playing basketball. That can happen with a four-game losing streak. Now, this team is having fun. After the final buzzer sounded Saturday, a pumped-up Boatwright ran over to the student section to celebrate. Enfield looked the most excited he has ever been in his time at USC. It was a well drawn-up play by head coach Andy Enfield and perfectly executed by a trio of veterans: Boatwright, redshirt junior guard Jonah Mathews and redshirt senior guard Derryck Thornton. Thornton, handling the ball, ran what was essentially a pick-and-pop with Boatwright at the top of the arc. Mathews also set a screen for Boatwright on the other side, freeing up the senior forward for an open look. And Boatwright, who Enfield referred to as the “MVP of our league” after the game, drilled it. So here we were, a month later. Trailing by a point late in regulation, needing a basket, the veterans did not panic. Thornton, who has had problems with turnovers, calmly slid the ball to Boatwright. Mathews set the pick to perfection. And Boatwright, who missed a potential game-winning shot at Oregon State earlier this month, hit nothing but net. Those are the kind of moments that not only win games, but also build the character and foundation of a good team. This is a completely different squad from the one that lost at Santa Clara last month for its fourth-straight defeat, after which Enfield, leaning against a crate outside the team’s locker room, said, “I don’t know what to say anymore.” He then called out the team’s veterans for poor decision-making. Saturday’s win over the Sun Devils was arguably the Trojans’ most impressive of the season. The game was tight throughout, with USC clinching the win on a 3-pointer by senior forward Bennie Boatwright with 14 seconds on the clock. These were no “gimme” wins. UCLA and Arizona, for all their issues this season, are still loaded with talent. The Trojans wiped the floor with both of them. Arizona State was perhaps the Pac-12’s best chance for an at-large bid to the tournament after it handed then-top-ranked Kansas its first loss earlier this season. Not anymore. “Everyone knew what we were doing,” Enfield said. The USC men’s basketball team could not have asked for a better week. Last Saturday, the Trojans blew out UCLA. On Thursday, they creamed Arizona by 23 points; and this Saturday, they scraped out a 2-point win over Arizona State. “The teams we just beat, these three teams, are very good basketball teams,” Enfield said. “They’re talented, they’re well-coached. So for USC basketball to beat UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State in three consecutive games — [I’m]very, very proud of these guys because they’re playing hard and they’re playing together.” What’s more impressive is that the sequence came after a missed ASU free throw, and USC did not have a timeout. So Enfield, who had drawn up the play during a timeout prior to the missed free throw, trusted his players to execute on the fly. Enfield knew exactly what to say, and he could not stop praising his players. This is not the USC team that lost to Santa Clara. This is a USC team on a roll. The Trojans appear to be in perfect position to take advantage of the Pac-12 turmoil. The three teams they just beat are all among the Pac-12 favorites. Oregon, which was picked to win the conference preseason, seems out of the running following freshman center Bol Bol’s injury. If the Trojans put up a good showing in Seattle on Wednesday, they can make some noise in March and beyond. last_img

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