USC stumbles big against the Sun Devils in Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal
The third-seeded Trojans unraveled early, wasted opportunity after opportunity to mount a comeback, and desperate, sixth-seeded ASU outplayed USC from start to finish, easily winning 77-72
Adam Grosbard (OC Register) — LAS VEGAS — Down by nine with three minutes left, USC guard Reese Dixon-Waters began to cut to the basket, expecting the Trojans to initiate their offense. What he did not expect was for Kobe Johnson to pass the ball to where Dixon-Waters had just been, only for it to bounce untouched out of bounds.
Coach Andy Enfield could only slump back in his seat, a dejected look on his face as the third-seeded Trojans squandered numerous chances to mount a comeback in Friday night’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Arizona State. Instead, USC left T-Mobile Arena with a 77-72 loss in which the Trojans never led.
Arizona State was the desperate team, needing to win the Pac-12 Tournament title to guarantee itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament field, and the Sun Devils played like it. They dove to the floor after every loose ball. They flew across the court to close out on open shooters. After a player on the court drew a foul, the bench rose to its feet in celebration.
The hustle showed up in the first-half box score, between eight offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points and five steals. It was a wonder USC was able to hang around as long as it did. It had Tre White and Johnson to thank for that, as the two young Trojan wings combined for 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting. The rest of the team shot 12 of 37 from the field. Drew Peterson was just two for 12.
“In the first half, they wanted it more than us,” said Boogie Ellis, who had 15 points before fouling out. “We came out flat. They just wanted it more than us tonight. That’s my job as a leader to get the guys going and I didn’t do a great job of that.”
USC, meanwhile, was rudderless and played like a team that had run out of gas. Five turnovers in 2:36, eight consecutive missed field-goal attempts, and no clear or even hazy secondary scorer behind Ellis, whose teammates shot 4 for 20 from the floor prior to halftime.
After a week in which players like Dixon-Waters and Joshua Morgan were in and out of practice with illness, the Trojans could not overcome their rust.
“We came out soft,” Johnson said. “This time of year, you can’t come out soft. I still feel confident. I know we should be in it. I don’t know how the NCAA is going to put us, but if we’re fortunate to get in, we’re going to have a huge chip on our shoulder.”
USC (22-10) had its chances in the second half. It made five of seven shots during one stretch to cut the deficit to nine. Ellis drew an offensive foul, and USC could have inched closer. But after a Johnson miss, Arizona State (22-11) grabbed a long offensive rebound after a miss at the end of the shot clock. Two passes later, Duke Brennan had an open layup.
There was no better opportunity than when Dixon-Waters completed a vicious tomahawk dunk through a smack to his face. The foul was upgraded to a flagrant, giving Dixon-Waters two free throws and USC the ball back.
But he split the two shots, then Ellis turned the ball over, leading to an ASU 3-pointer. Instead of a potential six-point play to cut the deficit in half, USC had gained no ground, down 12 all over again.
The Sun Devils’ 3-point shooting kept USC at bay all game. ASU’s 14 3-pointers tied the most allowed by the Trojans all season. By the time USC hit three straight 3-pointers to get within four, there were only 14 seconds left.
USC now will have to wait three nights until Selection Sunday, wondering about its fate. Does the loss send USC to Albany or Greensboro instead of travel-friendly Sacramento or Denver? Or do the Trojans head to the play-in games in Dayton, Ohio?
Their fate is in the Selection Committee’s hands, but Enfield believes his team has done enough to earn its spot in the 68-team field.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity this year with our roster, but this is why I’m so proud,” Enfield said. “To see where they’ve come from the beginning of the year to the end, it’s really impressive. … Where that puts us on Sunday is not my decision, but I’m very, very proud as a head coach.”
Welcome to the Big10 USC. Michigan State in the first round in Columbus, OH on Friday. 8 teams from the BIG in the tournament, 10 if you count UCLA and USC. Would all 10 make it in 2 years?
this non-performance in the Pac-12 tourney is why the men’s basketball program can’t have nice things,,,,😏
Does this mean that Sam Darnold (Currently a Carolina Panther employee) will be moving to another team AGAIN ? (From NFL Trade Rumors Website) >>>>> “It has long been expected that the Bears would part with the top pick in this year’s draft. They have reportedly done so, shipping the No. 1 selection to the Panthers for a package” So as they say on NFL Network Draft Show >>> “The Carolina Panthers are NOW on the Clock “.
What is enigmatic to me is that Enfield’s teams always lose a tournament game that they shouldn’t. The only exception in my opinion was when we had Evan Mobley and made it to the Elite 8. Very sad that SC got behind by 14 in the first half and couldn’t recover.
I think 7-foot Evan Mobley is the most extraordinary pure talent I’ve ever seen play for the Trojans.
In his one year at USC, he averaged 16.4 pts, 8.7 rebs, 2.8 blocks, and 2.4 assists, while leading his 25-8 team to the Elite 8 against Gonzaga. He was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. Mobley was also an all-NBA-Rookie First Teamer with the Cavaliers in 2022.
This was the first game I watched and only lasted to halftime, mostly due to the time. What I saw is SC has to big men up front, no offensive rebounds and easy points in the paint. I have low expectations for March Madness.
Peterson had a really poor night shooting the ball. We missed clutch free throws. Really poor turnovers in transition down the stretch. They took and made a bunch of contested 3’s. That’s game. Neither team played great.
As the game started at 1100 pm my time, I did not watch it. Based on this article and your comments, I take it that SC was simply not intense or focused enough to beat ASU. If SC had played with intensity and focus, they probably would have won. See my comment below on why that lack is not such a bad thing. SC will probably go to the NCAA as a low seed, whether it beat ASU for the 3rd time or it did not. If SC is win one or two tournament games (and it will go in… Read more »
I hope we don’t read that Endfield allowed the players a night out in Vegas, the way Pete Carroll did for the Vegas bowl. In that case the Trojans came out hungover. Coming out soft is not bad if you go in hard… not my fault it’s the Register’s headline.
Rialto, I always remember Lute Olson’s view of the tournament. If you have locked up your spot in the NCAA Tournament, best to lose the first game so your team can rest and be ready for the tournament. SC is probably in the tournament having beat the Sun Devils 2 of out 3. I think ASU plays Oregon next. ASU HAD to win this game. In fact, it probably HAS to win its next game against Oregon. And, Oregon HAS to beat ASU. The issue is whether the Committee will let in 3 or 4 Pac 12 teams. If 3,… Read more »
I no zilch about basketball compared to Lute Olson. However, SC was the rested team in the 2nd round of the Pac12 tournament. This is when you want your team to get confidence and play sharp. I saw none of that from SC last night.
That kind of talk is easy for Lute Olson, one of the most successful CBB coaches ever and the man who built ARIZ hoops (I think), to say.`
UCLA, Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Indiana, Marquette, and others in the top 25 aren’t looking to lose their conference tournament games. They are turning up the intensity and take momentum into March Madness.
I happen to agree with you. The test will be (a) does SC get into the Tournament (beating ASU would have assured that), (b) if SC gets in, what is its seeding, and (c) can it win any games? We will know in about a week.