The USC men’s basketball team suffered another conference loss Saturday night at the Galen Center when they fell to the visiting UCLA Bruins, 83-73.
In all fairness, the Trojans put up a fight.
That seems to be the season-long trend that has afflicted this year’s USC men’s basketball team. Game in and game out the Trojans (10-13, 1-9 Pac-12) have shown flashes of brilliance, putting together stretches where it seemed as if head coach Andy Enfield’s squad had finally put it together.
Unfortunately, paradise for these Trojans does not last, and, more often than not, the brilliance is followed by borderline basketball incompetence. This time around, the Trojans lost their promising halftime lead just minutes after the break.
Saturday’s clash with crosstown rival UCLA (18-5, 7-3) was no different.
The Trojans came firing out of the gate, building a double digit lead off of some stellar outside shooting and great defensive work. Junior guard Byron Wesley was once again impressive, finishing the first half with 18 points, going 4-4 from beyond the arc en route to a 27-point performance. Wesley’s scoring tally led both teams.
The wheels came off in the second half for USC, though, with the Bruins finding their footing from outside and the Trojans losing their composure on offense. UCLA went on a 14-1 run early in the second half to build a 13-point cushion, and coasted to the finish on their way to an 83-73 win over USC and a season sweep of their rivals.
Enfield, visibly frustrated with his team’s performance in conference play this year, was complimentary of his opponent. The Trojans’ head coach gave UCLA credit for the win.
“They have exceptional players,” Enfield said. “They’re very well-coached, and they played at an extremely high level today.”
The former Florida Gulf Coast coach, however, did note his team’s inability to respond to runs like the Bruins had in the second half as a major issue plaguing the Trojans.
“Teams have gone on runs and we haven’t been able to stop them,” Enfield said. “We need to handle those runs a little better.”
Fans and players alike are finding it difficult to find silver linings in these conference losses. The Trojans are dead last in the Pac-12, meaning they have a likely first round date with juggernauts Arizona or UCLA in the conference tournament looming ahead. Enfield was aware of his team’s tendency to keep games close — only to end up losing when time expires.
“We’ve been ‘in’ a lot of games we lost,” Enfield said. “I know our players are frustrated but they are working hard.”
Freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic has been one of the few bright spots on this year’s squad, and, like most of the players, is choosing to look ahead to the next game instead of dwelling on the mounting losses. The first-year player out of Serbia preached Enfield’s message of improving as a team.
“We just need to play more as a team and be focused,” Jovanovic said. “Just team effort.”
Jovanovic, Wesley and every member of this year’s squad have put forth considerable effort in attempting to turn USC into a contender.
Enfield was brought in not only to help with that task, but to bring excitement back to USC basketball and bring fans into the Galen Center.
Many fans did show up on Saturday, and the Trojans had a prime chance to give their long-suffering loyalists a glimmer of hope for the future.
Instead, USC showed once again that it is not on the same level as the conference elite, and the Trojan faithful went home disappointed.
USC will stay at the Galen Center for their next set of games, hosting the Utah Runnin’ Utes on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and the Colorado Buffaloes on Sunday at 5 p.m. The Trojans will still be seeking an elusive second conference victory.