Do You Believe in Miracles?

Column: USC has the goods to topple unbeaten Gonzaga and reach the Final Four!

Tahj Eaddy drives to the basket ahead of ORE center Franck Kepnang during the Trojans’ impressive Sweet 16 win Sunday. (Jeff Roberson / AP)

Dylan Hernandez (LA Times)  —  The possibility was always there, just not anywhere near the forefront of anyone’s mind.

Over the first three rounds of this NCAA tournament, every dunk by the Mobley brothers, every three-pointer by Isaiah White and every uncomfortable shot taken by an opponent has nudged viewers from around the country to consider what once existed only in the realm of fantasy.

USC can beat Gonzaga.

The Trojans have the size to frustrate the Bulldogs on Tuesday. They have the defense to stop them and the momentum to overcome them.

Gonzaga should consider itself warned, especially after USC’s 82-68 victory over Oregon on Sunday night in Indianapolis.

The Trojans have already made school history by reaching the Elite Eight for the second time in the last 66 years but should look at this as their starting line. They are talented enough to advance to the Final Four. They are playing well enough to win the tournament for the first time.

UCLA might be Los Angeles’ college basketball darling, but USC is the city’s only legitimate championship hope.

“I don’t know what everyone else is saying,” White said. “All I know is that this team is special. We believe we could beat anybody.”

Anybody, including the Bulldogs, who are 29-0 and have looked unstoppable this tournament.

In freshman guard Jalen Suggs, senior forward Corey Kispert and sophomore forward Drew Timme, they have three projected first-round picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

With an average of almost 92 points per game, they have the most potent offense in the nation.

Under longtime coach Mark Few, they are smart but also explosive in transition.

About the only kind of team that could stand up to them is a team like, well, USC.

The Trojans have limited their opponents to fewer than 65 points per game this season.

In the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, they held Drake and Kansas to 29% shooting. The Ducks fared better on Sunday, but not by much. Oregon made fewer than 38% of its field goals, including 30.3% in the first half.

Against the Bulldogs, the Trojans will continue to have an advantage they have enjoyed in virtually every game this season. They will have the best player on the floor.

Evan Mobley scored 17 points in his tournament opener against Drake, but the number of double teams he has attracted since limited him to 10 points in the wins over Kansas and Oregon.

Which hasn’t diminished Mobley’s importance to the offense.

Mobley has led the Trojans in assists in their last two games, with five against Kansas and six against Oregon.

“That just goes to show you how unselfish Evan Mobley is and what a great player he is,” coach Andy Enfield said. “He takes what the defense gives. He has confidence in his teammates and that goes throughout the whole team. When your most talented offensive player is your most unselfish and willing passer, you can win a lot of games like that.”

Ordinarily, teams are rewarded when they force the ball out of the hands of their opponent’s best player. USC’s three-point shooting has turned common sense upside down.

The increased involvement on offense of Mobley’s older brother, 6-10 sophomore Isaiah, has created something of a Twin Towers effect, creating openings on the perimeter for the likes of White, Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson.

Starting in the Pac-12 tournament, the Trojans have made 47.1% of their threes, including 10 of 17 against Oregon.

This could very well be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Enfield and USC. Evan Mobley was already viewed as a one-and-done player before the season started. The question now is whether Isaiah Mobley has improved his draft stock to where he would also consider leaving school early.

The obstacle in front of the Trojans is significant. Reaching their first Final Four in 67 years will require them to do what no other team has done this season. Then again, none of Gonzaga’s previous opponents were as talented as the Trojans and none were playing as well as they are now.


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Diamond Member
Chris (@chris)
March 29, 2021 7:12 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Cant remember the last time I saw a team get so dominated on the glass and in every loose ball. Houston isn’t huge but they are physical and hyper aggressive. Gotta love that effort.

Mt Rushmore
Steveg (@steveg)
March 29, 2021 3:29 pm

The biggest thing I see right now is USC peaking at the right time. These guys have gotten better and better in every game in the tournament. They keep it up they can fly a banner at Galen Center. Gonzaga is darn good, but who is the hottest right now. USC needs everything going really well, but so far it has, and I do believe in miracles.

Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
March 29, 2021 10:23 am

This very much sets up like the “Miracle on Ice.” I was off a bit; there are three All Americans on this Gonzaga BB team and they have one of the best and most experienced BB coaches in the nation. SC has one AA player and I will now concede that Enfield is one of the best coaches in the nation but lacks Few’s tournament experience. I cannot recall any BB having three AA on it other than the Wooden UCLA teams. You will note that Gonzaga is clearly the most talented team in the tournament (and maybe in the… Read more »

Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
March 29, 2021 10:25 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

I forgot to add. SC actually made its free throws against Oregon. When the Ducks started fouling – SC started hitting its free throws. My recollection is that Evan hit two and then Taj hit two. If they had bricked them, that could have been a 10 point swing at a critical time.

Golden Trojan
Diamond Member
Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
March 29, 2021 12:53 pm
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

They were 10-12. That was the last piece of the puzzle for them. If everything is dialed in tomorrow SC wins.