The USC men’s basketball team closed out a 71-60 victory over the Washington Huskies at the Galen Center on Sunday night to the exuberant chants of a crowd belting “We Are SC” in unison.
The Trojans (11-13, 6-5 Pac-12) pumped up fans with a dominating performance in which they never surrendered the lead and featured multiple dunks and 3-pointers. To top things off, the team turned in a near-perfect showing at the free throw line, shooting a stellar 14-15 from the charity stripe.
This marks the third straight win for USC, a feat last accomplished in February 2011.
“Tonight everybody came out with a tremendous amount of intensity, a lot of energy, and I think it showed,” junior guard J.T. Terrell said. “I think we were just ready to get a win.”
Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Trojans and the Huskies (13-11, 5-6 Pac-12) had matching 5-5 records in conference play. USC was fueled by consecutive victories over crosstown rival UCLA and a comeback against Washington State on Thursday, while Washington has gone 1-6 after winning its first four conference games.
“[The Huskies] are a very good team. It was just our night, and we were making shots,” USC interim head coach Bob Cantu said. “This is definitely a very impressive win for our guys.”
USC now leads the formerly tied all-time series against Washington with 69 wins and 68 losses. The Trojans lost their two previous games against Washington by an average of 25 points, but that was far from the case on Sunday night.
The team started off explosively, netting seven of its first nine attempts to take an early 18-6 lead, eventually leading by as many as 19 points in the first half. The offensive display was supported by several stellar performances, including one from Terrell, who led the team with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Senior forward Eric Wise tallied 12 points, and the bench contributed 19.
In addition to an impressive 53.3 shooting percentage, the Trojans’ defense stymied the Huskies in large part by limiting Washington’s top scorer, guard C.J. Wilcox, who entered the game averaging 18.1 points per contest but only notched eight against USC.
Still, Washington guard Scott Suggs helped the Huskies chisel away at the Trojan lead by scoring 16 points in the second half, allowing the team to pull within six points of the lead. But ultimately, the Trojans held on to top the Huskies by 11.
“Right now we’re really just playing with no leash, no limits,” Terrell said. “We’re holding ourselves accountable more and holding each other accountable.”
The team as a whole went 14-for-15 from the free-throw line, with senior point guard Jio Fontan breaking the perfect percentage with an in-and-out miss with 35.8 seconds remaining in the game. In the three-game winning streak, the team has sunk 41 of 49.
By comparison, the Huskies made 4 of 14 from the line and just 1 of 6 in the second half Sunday night.
“Guys are playing with confidence and they’re feeling good and stepping up to the line and making [free throws] when they count,” Cantu said. “That was a huge advantage for us.”
USC also showed a lot of versatility on the court with bench players stepping up in clutch situations. Fontan found himself in foul trouble early on in the second half, prompting Cantu to send in freshman point guard Chass Bryan. Bryan sunk a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch, and also had two assists and a steal.
“Those minutes that Chass gave us were so big and so important,” Cantu said. “He handled their pressure. He didn’t turn it over and he made shots.”
The crowd at the Galen Center responded to the team’s energy, rising to its feet several times within the final minutes, first to cheer a then-perfect free throw percentage and then to usher in a third-consecutive win. For a team that hasn’t seen too many of them, the standing ovation was a rewarding sight.
“It just brings a lot of energy to the arena itself and our sense of hope as a team,” Terrell said. “To have your fans in it is a big difference when it’s a close, tight game at the end.”
The Trojans travel next to Northern California to face Stanford and Cal, two other teams in a four-way tie for fifth in the Pac-12.
“When this whole transition happened four weeks ago, we didn’t know what to expect. We just took it day by day and we still are,” Cantu said. “We’re just fortunate right now to get three [wins] in a row, we’ve got some momentum and now we’re on the road which is going to be more difficult, but we’re going to regroup and be ready to go.”