Adam Grosbard (OC Register) — LOS ANGELES — After USC wrapped up a 62-56 victory over Washington on Thursday, the Trojans’ collective minds were on a teammate who wasn’t on the bench at the Galen Center.
“This one’s for you, Kyle,” head coach Andy Enfield said.
Freshman point guard Kyle Sturdivant has been away from the team all week following the sudden death of his father, Gary, last week. Sturdivant was in his native Atlanta to be with his family in the wake of the tragedy.
But his teammates’ thoughts were with him after Thursday’s win.
“That’s our brother,” said forward Nick Rakocevic, who scored a game-high 19 points. “We’re always going to be here for him. What happened with his family is terrible and our thoughts and our prayers go out to him and his family. This win was for him and his family.”
USC (18-7 overall, 7-5 Pac-12) was trying to erase memories of a 72-40 loss to Washington (12-13, 2-10) during the first weekend of Pac-12 play. Enfield had derisively described USC’s offense in that game as having set the sport back by half a century.
But there was no improvement in the first half against a Washington team that came in on a six-game losing streak. USC, which had lost three games in a row, shot 9 for 33 from the field as the team adjusted without leading scorer Onyeka Okongwu, out with a concussion.
From there, though, USC went on a 9-0 run to retake the lead. But just as the Trojans seemed to be in a groove on offense, the point guard situation went from bad to worse.
Starter Ethan Anderson went down along the baseline in front of the USC bench, clutching at his left leg. Two trainers helped the freshman into the locker room, where he stayed for an extended period before returning to the bench with a bag of ice on his left knee, which Enfield said was hyperextended.
Anderson and Okongwu’s statuses for Saturday’s game against Washington State are day-to-day.
USC was left without the two true point guards on its roster, but the defense held firm enough to withstand a rudderless offense.
The Trojans held Washington scoreless for a seven-minute stretch as they extended the lead to five with 5:37 to play. USC played swarming defense, trapping the ball to stem the ball movement that had helped the Huskies’ freshman duo of Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart combine for 32 points.
“We knew at halftime we were going to have to win this on the defensive end,” Enfield said. “We just told our guys, ‘If you don’t win the defensive game tonight, you’re not going to win.’”
Then, Jonah Mathews and Rakocevic came through.
Mathews, a senior guard, scored eight straight points for the Trojans, including a pair of 3-pointers. Rakocevic used a pump fake to draw a foul and completed a three-point play to put USC ahead by 10, its biggest advantage of the night.
Perhaps most importantly, USC only committed six turnovers on the night, a strong recovery from the two dozen giveaways in the Trojans’ last game.
But Thursday night, everyone’s thoughts were with the Trojan in Atlanta.
“I’m very proud of our team rallying around Kyle,” Enfield said. “Basketball comes secondary when it’s life and death and things like that.”
IN THE RAFTERS
DeMar DeRozan, who has gone on to star for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs, had his No. 10 retired by USC during halftime.
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