The USC men’s basketball team (10-10, 1-6 Pac-12) will travel to Corvallis, Ore. following one of their most promising weeks of Pac-12 play and take on the Oregon State Beavers (11-8, 3-4).
Head coach Andy Enfield’s squad is coming off of a week that saw them pick up their first conference victory of the year, beating Cal in convincing fashion.
The Trojans followed that up with a strong effort against the visiting Stanford Cardinal, keeping pace with them before eventually falling by 8 in overtime.
Oregon State will be no tough task for the Trojans. The Beavers are 8-2 in their last 10 in Corvallis, and redshirt junior guard Roberto Nelson is leading the Pac-12 in scoring, with just more than 22 points a game.
“This league is very good top to bottom,” Enfield said regarding the rigorous Pac-12 schedule.
Though the Trojans have not been able to put all the pieces together in conference play, their effort is undoubtedly there. Last season the Trojans had similar struggles, losing five out of their first eight Pac-12 games. There seems to be a marked difference in the two squads despite what the similar records might suggest.
Enfield’s team seems to put forth great effort every night, despite facing mounting struggles on the offensive end.
“The guys have had great attitudes and they’ve been very enthusiastic,” he said. “I’m very proud of our players.”
Though some of the younger players have struggled to find consistency this season, junior guard Byron Wesley has been a model of stability. Wesley comes into the game averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds per contest.
For his part, Wesley thinks the Trojans need to follow his lead and find some on-court steadiness.
“We just need to stay consistent,” the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native said. “Look at the film, grow, see our flaws, see what we do well, and continue to practice hard and prepare like we’ve been preparing.”
While Wesley’s stellar efforts will be required, he will certainly need some help to walk out with a win in Corvallis, something the Trojans have been unable to do in their last four road contests with the Beavers.
Some of that help may come in the form of freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic, who entered the season as a low-profile recruit but has his coaches raving about his progress.
For his efforts he has earned what seems to be a permanent place in the starting line-up, and his coach was clear when explaining why.
“We’re 8-1 when Nikola scores in double figures,” Enfield said. “Hopefully he understands that.”
Against California, Jovanovic certainly seemed to get that message, scoring a career-high 23 points while shooting a mind-boggling 80 percent from the field.
Some of his better performances have made Trojan fans and national scouts alike forget that Jovanovic is only 18, but, luckily for Enfield, his growing stardom has not translated into any sense of entitlement.
“It’s been awesome for me as a freshman,” Jovanovic said of his increased playing time.
His teammates seem to appreciate Jovanovic as well.
“Nikola is really talented,” Wesley said of his international teammate. “I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic.”
Jovanovic, Wesley and the rest of the team will have to continue to work hard, as the schedule only gets tougher.
Following the Oregon State game, the Trojans have a date in Eugene with the always talented Oregon Ducks. For now, however, USC will try to march into Corvallis and come out with their second conference win of the season.