Where Does USC Hoops Go From Here?

Column: USC had a nice NCAA tournament run, but can Andy Enfield sustain it?

Dylan Hernandez (LA Times)  — The shame wasn’t in the loss, but in how the game was lost.

USC wasn’t ready.

Coach Andy Enfield knew what was coming but failed to prepare his team for one of the most important games in program history.

The Trojans were confused.

And after 40 disorienting and disheartening minutes Tuesday night, they were out of the NCAA tournament, their visions of a March miracle destroyed by an 85-66 reality check from No.1 and unbeaten Gonzaga in the West Regional final.

USC was never in the game, down by seven points after only two minutes and 21 points after 14.

The Trojans couldn’t deal with Gonzaga’s defensive pressure, which they knew they would have to do. They couldn’t slow the Bulldogs down in transition, which they also knew they would have to do.

“I think our players made some mistakes,” Enfield said. “They’re college basketball players, and that’s what happens sometimes.

“They were prepared to play.”

But the game was over by halftime, at which point Gonzaga was ahead 49-30.

Over the first 20 minutes, the Trojans committed seven turnovers that resulted in nine points for the Bulldogs. At the break, Gonzaga also had a 32-16 edge in points in the paint and a 7-2 advantage in second-chance points.

“They were denying the wings a lot,” USC freshman Evan Mobley said. “A lot of our plays involve a lot of swinging the ball, but we couldn’t swing the ball because our wings weren’t open necessarily. So it would cause the guard to go one-on-one, and sometimes it would cause a turnover.”

The first play of the game was a sign of what was to come, as Gonzaga’s tallest starter, 6-foot-10 center Drew Timme, stole the ball from Trojans guard Tahj Eaddy.

The Trojans didn’t have an answer, not for the Bulldogs’ defense and certainly not for Timme, who scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the first half.

USC entered the game looking as if it had the talent required to threaten Gonzaga, but a legitimate challenge never materialized.

Moving forward, the question the Trojans’ athletic department will have to ask itself is whether Enfield reached his ceiling in this tournament.

As only the first USC team to advance to the Elite Eight in 20 years, these Trojans deserve to be celebrated.

But Enfield was hired to do more than this. He was expected to make the program relevant, both locally and nationally.

Doing that will require the Trojans to play at this level on close to an annual basis. But this particular team was built around an anticipated one-and-done player in Mobley and several transfers.

If as many players depart as expected, the Trojans won’t build on this tournament run next year as much as they will construct an entirely new team.

Kind of like what they had to do this season, when they returned only three players from their previous squad.

“We had a brand-new team, and they didn’t even get to know each other until school started,” Enfield said.

With campus closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Enfield pointed out, “Half of our team, we didn’t even meet in person until Sept.1.”

How the team came together in such a short period was cited by Enfield as evidence of what a special group it was.

He was right.

But there is a cost to starting from scratch at the beginning of the season, namely the ups and downs a team must endure to discover its identity. USC was one of the 10 most talented teams in the country — maybe even one of the top five — but was a No. 6 seed in this tournament.

Even with USC playing well in the postseason, the difference between a program that turns over its roster every year and one that doesn’t was painfully obvious in the loss to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs knew how to share the ball, how to defend as a group. That level of understanding takes years to develop, not months.

USC’s future seasons will determine how Enfield views this tournament, whether he refers back to it as part of his guide to success or reflects on the opening minutes of the Gonzaga game with regret, knowing it cost him his only chance of reaching a Final Four.

latimes.com

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Lslondre
Lslondre (@lslondre)
March 31, 2021 4:51 pm

We didn’t lose to Ucla. Who won both games with Ucla and who won in football…We lost to Gonzaga. Zags outplayed us. Fight on, Dylan.

Last edited 17 days ago by Lslondre
Chris
Diamond Member
Chris (@chris)
March 31, 2021 10:30 am

I know that I live in Spokane and I am force fed Gonzaga 24/7, but they’re talent is being underplayed. They are going to have three first round pics this year. They have 3-4 others who will be drafted this year or next. Looks like Ayayi and Nemhard might be first rounders with Suggs and Kispert. Timme will be drafted after those guys, crazy right? Cook and Watson will most likely leave for the NBA next year. That’s a collection of talent almost never seen. Few does coach a great style of basketball, but this team is crazy loaded. I… Read more »

Golden Trojan
Diamond Member
Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
March 31, 2021 11:11 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Gonzaga will likely go down as the greatest team in at least the last 45 years! It looked like men playing against boys last night. SC having to play Zags in the Elite 8 was bad luck of the draw. Put them in any other region and they are Final 4. Reminds me of past very good Trojan teams that had to play second fiddle to the great Wooden teams.
Undefeated national champions since 1939:
1975-76 Indiana 32-0
1972-73 UCLA 30-0
1971-72 UCLA 30-0
1966-67 UCLA 30-0
1963-64 UCLA 30-0
1956-57 North Carolina 32-0
1955-56San Francisco29-0

Chris
Diamond Member
Chris (@chris)
March 31, 2021 11:02 am
Reply to  Chris

*Their talent

Chris
Diamond Member
Chris (@chris)
March 31, 2021 7:58 am

I am not going to let last night tarnish the year. This season was a success by any measure. We should have won the conference, had a deep run in the tourney and boat raced the conference champ. Had the player of the year in the conference. Will finish in top 15 in country. Will put two more of our guys in the NBA. Well done Trojan basketball, well done.

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
March 31, 2021 9:17 am
Reply to  Chris

You’ve captured my feelings perfectly Chris. Plus, recruiting is also going well — so now, the staff’s highest recruiting focus needs to focus on keeping the current squad as intact as possible. 

LawyerJohn
Knighted Member
LawyerJohn (@lawyerjohn)
March 31, 2021 7:34 am

Season’s Final Words: Last night there were signs of trouble for the USC Trojans’ basketball team before the game even started. Their opponent, the talented Gonzaga Bulldogs, instead of practicing jump-shots, were working on layups, slam-dunks and victory posturing… When the game started it was over after 2-minutes as SC called a time-out and had all the signs of a loser except raising a white flag. The only other sport that can be over at the 2-minute mark is boxing– Cassius Clay over Sonny Liston in their second fight or Joe Louis taking out the ‘Bum of the Month.’ Bulldogs’… Read more »

danielmcd1
Active Member
danielmcd1 (@danielmcd1)
March 31, 2021 5:36 am

I may sound like a broken record but I will say it again with even more data to back it up. Mark Few from Gonzaga is in his 22nd year as head coach for the Zags. This is his teams second FINAL FOUR. John Wooden the Wizard of Westwood coached UCLA for 16 seasons until they won their first of many many NCAA Titles in 1963. This is Coach Andy’s 8th season. We have won more games and been to the Dance more frequently under his watch. My conclusion to this sad day after a poor performance, give him more… Read more »

rleeholder1
Noble Member
rleeholder1 (@rleeholder1)
March 31, 2021 6:04 am
Reply to  danielmcd1

Very well said danielmcd1! I’m hoping for a miracle that Evan Mobley stays another year. He needs to develop his body before he takes on an NBA season, in my opinion. I’m sure Andy Enfield will encourage him to stay and the wild card may be that his Dad Eric, an assistant coach on Andy’s staff, may realize that another year of development in college would be a good thing for his son. Without Evan as a building block for next year, it will be difficult for SC to get into the tournament next year. We’ll need to rely on… Read more »

Golden Trojan
Diamond Member
Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
March 31, 2021 10:59 am
Reply to  rleeholder1

Good points, especially regarding Mobley. Timme is what an NBA ready center looks line, with the bulk, speed and skills. Mobley needs to mature into an adult body before moving on.

rleeholder1
Noble Member
rleeholder1 (@rleeholder1)
April 1, 2021 6:52 am
Reply to  Golden Trojan

Thank you Golden Trojan! The next few months will be interesting to see what transpires in the NBA Draft and yay, Spring Football practice is underway.

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
March 31, 2021 2:42 pm
Reply to  danielmcd1

Totally agree. Andy Enfield has recruited and coached the best team in SC B-Ball history (only competitor is the 72 team). Few has had 22 years to build his program. Wooden was given 16 years. This year, Andy’s team could have competed with any team in the nation but maybe three I have seen. Obviously, Gonzaga (which I think is at least 10 points better than the 2nd best team), Baylor and probably Houston. Having a top 5 team (and I think that is where this team finished) is quite an accomplishment. He has earned a few more years. Let’s… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
March 31, 2021 5:43 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

To move the analogy to football, is Andy closer to Clay Helton (worst coach in Power 5) or Nick Saban?

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
April 1, 2021 10:32 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Thanks for the reply. I think we are very close in how we view Enfield. I would NOT give him a large contract as if he were an elite coach – he clearly is not. I think he has two years remaining on his existing contract. I would wait a minimum of a year to see how he does and then I would provide incentives with a low base for him. Part of the incentives will be tied to attendance as well as record. My goal would be to see if he has reached his ceiling or not. If he… Read more »

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
April 1, 2021 12:21 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Absolutely — and although IMO no big time program will be aggressively after him, I’m confident he’ll get it (and he deserves one).

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
April 1, 2021 1:37 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I just think he needs more than one excellent season to become that attractive to a big-time program. But I could be wrong. (And I would doubt that Andy would want to step into a smaller, lesser known school.)

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
April 1, 2021 2:36 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

He eems to recruit well — but of course, he’s got southern California weather, Hollywood, etc. for a brochure — and he has a likeable personality.

For weaknesses, he doesn’t seem to make great gametime adjustments — and free throw shooting just doesn’t seem to improve from year-to-year, and that just doesn’t compute for me.

Rock2112
Diamond Member
Rock2112 (@rock2112)
March 31, 2021 6:03 pm
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

This run was fun, but honestly Andy just needs to keep beating the Bruins every time we play. I get SO much juice out of that!

rleeholder1
Noble Member
rleeholder1 (@rleeholder1)
April 1, 2021 6:54 am
Reply to  Rock2112

I’m right there with you Rock2112. I’m pumped when we beat the Little Gutties in any sport!