Can USC’s Shooters Regain Touch for UCLA?

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  The one-man takeover was slow and methodical. A swatted shot. A put-back basket in traffic. A soaring lob along the baseline. Before long, Onyeka Okongwu had taken complete control on both ends in Pullman, Wash., last Thursday, dominating ill-equipped defenders and strapping an inconsistent USC offense on his back, as he so often has during a dynamic freshman season.

While the rest of the Trojans made only 11 shots combined in an ice-cold night at Washington State, Okongwu made 12 of his own on 14 attempts. In perhaps his finest performance yet, the former Chino Hills standout and two-time state player of the year finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocked shots, almost single-handedly willing the Trojans to victory in a Pac-12 Conference opener.

The game was a reminder not only of how far Okongwu could carry the Trojans, but also how desperately they need him to do so. As USC enters the thick of its Pac-12 schedule, beginning Saturday with a game against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, it has yet to find a reliable second scorer behind its dominant big man.

In the absence of one, the Trojans (12-3 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12) have had no choice but to rely heavily on Okongwu, whose response so far has more than sufficed. In the 14 games he’s played, Okongwu (left) has seven double-doubles, while ranking among the top 10 in the Pac-12 in points, rebounds and blocks.

When Washington deployed its stifling zone defense three nights later, clogging the lane with a tangled mess of limbs, the downside of USC’s dependence became painfully clear. Okongwu had his worst game of the season — 10 points on 31% shooting — and the Trojans unraveled. USC shot 20% from the field and had 21 turnovers.

Midway through the first half, the Trojans trailed by only four points when senior forward Nick Rakocevic caught a pass at the elbow. Plenty of time remained for another scorer to emerge, and Rakocevic, a senior averaging nearly 12 points per game, seemed the most logical option.

A screen from Okongwu opened the lane, but as Rakocevic drove, lifting for an easy lay-in, he missed the hoop completely. The Trojans were outscored 54-26 from that point.

“Not one single player on our team played well offensively,” coach Andy Enfield said after the 72-40 loss.

Still, Enfield brushed away any suggestion that the blowout loss was indicative of larger issues with the offense. He listed seven players, including Rakocevic, who he felt were capable of stepping up as a scorer.

“Everybody can chip in,” Enfield said. “We win and lose as a team. The advantage we have is we have depth. But when that depth as a team doesn’t help out when some of the leading scorers aren’t playing as well or not shooting as well, then you have what happened Sunday night.”

As for their leading scorer, he shrugged off the notion that USC was asking too much of him.

“I don’t really believe in pressure,” said Okongwu, who is averaging 17.8 points a game. “We’re all great basketball players. I don’t think anything’s on my shoulders, honestly. I rely on my teammates, they rely on me.”

Nonetheless, the numbers paint a pretty one-sided picture. The Trojans are 1-3 when Okongwu shoots worse than 50% from the field, with the only victory coming in November against Nevada.

With Okongwu struggling in that victory, it was Rakocevic who carried the scoring load, with 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting. The senior forward was expected to play a vital role on offense this season, stretching defenses to open the paint for Okongwu. Since the Nevada game, Rakocevic has been wildly inconsistent, shooting 41% and scoring in double figures just four times over 11 games.

He’s not the only Trojan struggling to live up to expectations on offense. Isaiah Mobley arrived at USC last summer with similar hype to his five-star freshman counterpart, but Mobley broke his left foot in June and struggled to adjust.

The forward’s slow development has led to him averaging 8.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

“There’s frustration,” Mobley said Tuesday. “I have high expectations for myself, not even numbers-wise, just playing. There’s been moments of frustration, but also accomplishment. And without struggle, I don’t feel like I’d be getting better.”

For the Trojans to seriously compete in the Pac-12, they’ll need their offense to improve in a hurry. They currently rank last in the conference in turnovers, with 103 over their last six games. From the three-point line, they’ve made just two of their last 22 attempts.

Still, among the Trojans’ slumping scorers, there’s hope that this dismal stretch is only a blip. With its league-worst defense from behind the three-point line (opponents shoot 39% from long range), UCLA (8-7, 1-1) offers an ideal chance to bust that slump.

“We were hot before this, and we’re going to get back to it,” senior guard Jonah Mathews said. “We have a lot of shooters on our team.”

__________

TrojanDailyBlog members  —  Always feel free to add information or topics to the TDB which don’t necessarily pertain to any particular moderator post or member comment.

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HOF19
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Now Clemson fans will be angry at the Pac-12 refs .

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MORE FROM LSU FAN MESSAGE BOARD>>>>>>>>………Clemson moved on that play… No call…

locoguano, 1 minute ago

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FROM THE LSU FAN MESSAGE BOARD>>>>>>>>This is the worst possible crew for LSU… They are letting the DBs hold every play.

locoguano, 3 minutes ago They’re mauling our receivers.

northernvatiger, 4 minutes ago

HOF19
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Nice pass by Clemson there.

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Some people suggest (at times) that the NCAA makes questionable decisions. Just read on internet that they decided to use PAC-12 Refs for this Natl’ Championship game . ……… Yea Pac-12 refs where good this year right ?

Jamaica
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Is it my imagination or is it coming upon a little more than 3-weeks away to NSD 2020 and Clay Helton hasn’t named a DC nor a special team position coach yet? Talk about being inept as a HC of any football program let alone the former flagship west coast one. AD Mike Bohn, you own some of this lack of leadership yourself.

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Bohn owns it 100%. That is the position he accepted when he retained Helton.

Rock2112
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I am so frustrated by the broken clock that governs USC Football. Callaway fired too late. Pendergast fired too late. Baxter fired too late. Special teams coach not hired until three days before Spring practice last year. AD not hired until late in a season. Can’t practice in a bye week. Can’t practice fully for a bowl. No hurry to decide our head coach’s fate (and then we make the wrong decision). Now DC hire is taking too long. This kind of dereliction of duty is akin to driving down the freeway with your eyes closed. It’s really quite shocking… Read more »

Trojan96
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Like Kennedy said. The current coaching staff is pure dog$hit.

UtahTrojan
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Don’t leave out Folt and Bohn.

HOF19
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A USC Basketball note (FWIW) .USC Mens Basketball is ranked 29th in the RPi Poll ….….FIGHT ON !

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How appropriate…. the boosters, alums & fanbase are finally taking their gloves off in frustration by identifying USC football as a “dogsh*t” program and the damage this will cause. The press & CFB are all ears listening to this. Lips are stretching, tongues are wagging, tonsils are vibrating, bellys are working up & down. We’ll see how much Dr. Folt & Mike Bohn can stomach in taking its ownership.

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Brian Kennedy is my hero! I love how he calls it like he sees it. He’s 100% correct. The current program is dog$hit. Helton is a dog$hit coach and his coaching no-tackling style is a joke. I hope more Alumni and super boosters follow suit. The players, the students and the alumni deserve better.

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The only way this becomes something that the university takes seriously is if attendance next year drops to the low 30,000 and the team really struggles. This kind of reminds me what happened when Hackett was head coach and none of the alumni cared about the program.

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Be careful USC ………From the late Twenties till early Forties (I just looked this up on internet) Fordham University had a massive National fan base. I live in NY Metro area you would be surprised how many of my neighbors did not know Fordham has a football program. It takes a long time to become BIG TIME fan base. But the size of your fan base can decrease real real fast and stay small a long time . Fordham University is ok with it because academics have been the priority. Maybe USC (and the pac-12 ) would not mind being… Read more »

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Just looked this up >>>>> During it’s great years Fordham played at a 55,000 seat stadium ( and filled it ) . Now they play at Coffey Field …… Capacity ? ……..7,000 !!!!!…………..BE CAREFUL USC !!!!!

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I love that at least some big donors are speaking out. Brian Kennedy has donated millions to USC over the years. His name is on a practice field used by the football program. It also adorns the Founders Room in the Galen Center, where food is served before basketball games. He graduated from USC and was a lifelong friend to former wide receiver Hal Bedsole. He is in New Orleans tonight because he is a close friend of Ed Orgeron and attended the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year banquet tonight honoring Orgeron. Asked about the current state of the… Read more »

TrojanMPA90
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Watch the university change the practice field name to take Kennedy’s name out and remove it in the Founders Room for his comments.

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If I am not mistaken with the Browns hiring a HC there are no more NFL HC jobs open . Mr. Urban Meyer still available . About 10 more months of Bohn getting sick of CH . And (maybe ) A LOT of “Hire Urban ” banners at the Colosseum. A petition signed by season ticket holders stating they will come back if Urban is hired . A lot of the WEALTHIEST boosters saying “Hire Urban and we will put money in again”. I know the USC beat reporters (and a ton of fans )all through next season WILL NOT… Read more »

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Mike Leach leaves the PAC-12 with some parting shots that are truthful & honest. He says he took the Miss. St. job because it is full of quality coaches to compete with. He follows that up with the Pac-12 is full of coaches too, if he had his druthers, crummy coaches. He also said he couldn’t turn down a program who was committed to win with a good budget to support it. Another slap in the face to PAC-12 mentality. The SEC commercials now end with “we just care more”. And Larry Scott will totally ignore it all….. because he… Read more »

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Bohn and Helton knew 4 weeks ago they wanted a new DC and they still haven’t found someone? Can’t they find anyone that wants the job? Would they really be able to get an NFL guy that is still in the Playoffs and can’t talk to? Is Helton still begging Joe Barry?

Chris
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GH is one of a few candidates for the WSU job, although it is remote. But he is also mentioned going to Miss St as OC for Mike Leach. That I could believe. Without GH we would go from a good mess to a great mess.

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I am not going to freak if Harrell leaves. The air raid is not the future of SC unless we want to be a second tier team. We might as well rip the band-aid off.

Jamaica
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It would serve Helton right if GH left. Helton again is dragging his feet in finding a new DC when most other programs have already filled in their coaching vacancies. It puts Helton right where he has been before in searching, what’s left over and all the good candidates are gone, for a DC. He makes such a mockery of a once proud elite football program. I think it is obvious the new administration cares little about USC football reputation. GH has to see the dumbness of all this, Why would he want to get dragged further into this circus?… Read more »

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Chris, Folt and Bohn have put SC fans is a very tough spot. We ALL know that Clay is simply not very capable. But, they want to keep him. The fans/alumni want a championship level coach for FB (which Clay clear is not). Hence, SC fans/alumni have been put in the spot to root against SC (or at least realize that Clay is Clay and not support the team) so long as Clay is running the show. We all also know that GH is by far the best coach on the staff. If he leaves, Bohn is in a very… Read more »

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USC is currently a mess, but Miss St. will never be better than mid tier in the SEC. Don’t see him leaving USC to go there.

TrojanMPA90
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GH going to Miss State would be great for him if he wants to establish himself as an up and coming coach in the best conference in college football. Hope he stays but I could see him going.

Steveg
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What new on the DC hiring? Crickets from USC as usual. Why does USC need a tight ends coach, let Harrell bring in a qb coach and give the TE to the WR coach.

Jamaica
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Unless GH has been promised to replace Helton as HC, I don’t see how he can stick around and allow his reputation get tarnished.