Trojans Hope To Avoid 8th Consecutive Road Loss; UCLA Looms Tomorrow

Andy Enfield says rebounding ‘is not necessarily natural for a lot of guys.’ Do the Trojans have a plan for how to fix it?

“They work hard, they’re trying to be tough,” coach Andy Enfield says of his Trojans, “but the rebounding thing is not necessarily natural for a lot of guys.” (Robert Gauthier / LAT)

Thuc Nhi Nguyen (LA Times)  —  After a sixth consecutive loss, Andy Enfield’s patience appeared to be wearing thin. USC had just given up 17 offensive rebounds in a nine-point loss to Oregon at Galen Center. The previous game, the Trojans got outrebounded by 14 against UCLA at home. The coach, often so calculated in his media appearances, called his top four post players “poor” defensive rebounders. He yearned for USC’s big men of old. He missed their toughness.

Three weeks later, when asked where his players stood in terms of toughness required to battle on the boards, Enfield paused in a mostly empty practice gym. He considered his words carefully.

“They work hard, they’re trying to be tough,” the coach said, “but the rebounding thing is not necessarily natural for a lot of guys.”

The Trojans (10-16, 4-11 Pac-12) are the second-worst team in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin. They’re running out of time to address the glaring issue with five regular-season games left, starting with Saturday’s rivalry rematch against UCLA at 7 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins (14-12, 9-6) outrebounded USC 43-29 on Jan. 27 in a 15-point UCLA victory at Galen Center, their first road win over USC of coach Mick Cronin’s tenure. It won’t be easy for the Trojans to get revenge. They have lost seven consecutive road games, their longest road losing streak since 2015. USC has lost two straight games at Pauley Pavilion.

But after blowing a 16-point, second-half lead to Colorado, guard Boogie Ellis called the rivalry rematch a “must-win.” The Trojans are hoping to find any semblance of momentum entering the Pac-12 tournament, which they know will be their only hope for an NCAA tournament berth.

Last weekend could have provided the perfect launching point. A thrilling win and last-gasp block by Joshua Morgan against Utah appeared to give the slumping team confidence. Losing to Colorado in double overtime was a gut punch, but the Trojans tried to find a silver lining while preparing for UCLA.

“Just play like we did versus Utah and Colorado,” forward DJ Rodman said. “But just rebound.”

The Trojans have been outrebounded by an average of 18.25 in the last four games, including 27- and 25-rebound disadvantages against California and Colorado, respectively. It’s been an Achilles heel for the team all year, Morgan admitted.

Morgan leads the four-man post rotation that includes 7-foot-1 center Vincent Iwuchukwu, 6-9 sophomore Kijani Wright and freshman Arrinten Page. They have a combined 18 defensive rebounds in the last four games. None has pulled down more than two in a game.

“Some of our bigs are very good offensive rebounders, not so much natural defensive rebounders,” Enfield said. “Working at it, getting better, but we need them to improve, and then some of our guards, same thing.”

Defensive rebounding is a combination of technique, mentality and anticipation, Enfield said. The team continues to work on physicality drills in practice. Morgan, a 6-11 forward who leads the Pac-12 in blocks but averages a paltry 1.8 defensive rebounds per conference game in 21.1 minutes, has tried to focus on making sure he hits the opposing post player first after each shot. The 6-6 Rodman leads the team with 4.9 rebounds per game.

Making a late-season push on the boards is USC’s next task after tackling its turnover problem.

The Trojans had double-digit turnovers in 13 of their first 14 games. The struggles prompted the coaching staff to start tracking turnovers during practices, awarding points during each scrimmage for made baskets or turnovers forced. The team that lost had extra wind sprints at the end of each practice. The immediate feedback of seeing their mistakes tallied on the board, combined with the consequence of extra conditioning, made a bigger impact than simply reviewing the practice film a day later, said Enfield, who uses the system to track and penalize offensive rebounds given up during practice.

The strategy worked until injuries knocked out the starting backcourt. During the three games without Ellis and Isaiah Collier, USC had 42 assists to 50 turnovers. But since Collier’s return from a broken hand, USC is averaging 8.5 turnovers in the last four games compared to 12.7 on the season.

Much of USC’s preseason hype was built on the talented backcourt. Languishing at 11th place in the conference, the Trojans recognize they fell well short of expectations that placed them second in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. But getting Collier back makes them whole at the right time with the team preparing to go all-in at the conference tournament.

“We were one of the favorites to win at the beginning of the year and we still have the same team,” Rodman said. “I don’t know why that’s not a possibility.”

latimes.com

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Golden Trojan
Major Genius
February 24, 2024 11:22 am

Women’s BB had a big night beating a tough physical Colorado team 87-81. They shot 57% FG, 68% 3 PT, and near perfect 96% FT. Maybe the women’s staff should school the men’s team on FTs!

TrojanRJJ
Noble Genius
TrojanRJJ
Offline
February 24, 2024 11:37 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

A tale of two programs. The SC men (with the #1 recruit in the nation) and the SC women (with the #1 recruit in the nation).

Golden Trojan
Major Genius
February 24, 2024 5:39 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

And the rest of the team were drilling 3s and playing tenacious D.

PN4SC
Genius Member
PN4SC
Offline
February 23, 2024 8:25 pm

Enfield has enjoyed sustained success at USC, but I think his shelf life is about to hit it’s expiration date. I don’t see him recovering from this truly horrific season.
I know there is a big buyout, but I would like to see him sent packing at the end of the year. It would be best for the program going forward.
It’s strange, but when you go to the USC hoops board, any negative talk about Enfield is really frowned upon. The moderator there is convinced Andy is the greatest coach in school history.

TrojanRJJ
Noble Genius
TrojanRJJ
Offline
February 24, 2024 11:40 am
Reply to  PN4SC

PN4SC, You know I agree. Andy is now a zombie coach. If Collier decides to come back for this staff, he probably stays until Collier leaves. But, I cannot imagine Collier stays. If Collier wants to stay in college, best go to another program which will actually develop him.

Golden Trojan
Major Genius
February 23, 2024 5:12 pm

Forget Enfield and his sorry band of wasted talent. He’s a loser, has to go. Watch the women, they are winners and great coaching. Even if women players seem to wear concrete shoes compared to men! 😎🏀

Chris
Major Genius
Chris
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February 23, 2024 4:18 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Well, it’s open season. Pay for play is the law of the land. Teams with the best collectives and most money will win most the recruiting battles. We shall see where we rank.

Golden Trojan
Major Genius
February 23, 2024 5:09 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

USC has no excuses now to not go with signed up front offers for recruits and transfers. Great ruling! Who in their right mind agrees to “potential” million dollar deal on a verbal promise of a “possibility”.

Steveg
Noble Genius
Steveg
Offline
February 23, 2024 5:44 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I have heard that USC has funding for NIL. I just hope it is enough. Nike U will come out throwing even more money around like never before. This ruling is going to make a huge difference in recruiting now. They have left the ncaa powerless.

TrojanRJJ
Noble Genius
TrojanRJJ
Offline
February 24, 2024 11:36 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I had expected this would be the ruling. I think it totally is in line with the Supreme Court ruling and particularly Kavanaugh’s opinion. The NCAA now is officially dead except for the contracts for the CFP and March Madness. This ruling also effectively ends the investigation against FSU. I thought the NCAA was crazy to go after FSU and TN given that Court ruling, but it did. And now things are much worse. There should be two immediate impacts on SC: Pay for Play NIL is now the law of the land. SC cannot be concerned about it at… Read more »

RialtoTrojan
Noble Genius
RialtoTrojan
Offline
February 23, 2024 2:02 pm

So if winning against Ucla will save Enfield’s job… I’m rooting for the Bruins.

Golden Trojan
Major Genius
February 23, 2024 5:04 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

As we learned with Grinch either can coach defense or you can’t. Burns and Gottlieb can, Enfield and staff can’t.