Four nights after defeating Washington 74-58 at the Galen Center to conclude the regular season, the Trojans will rematch against the Huskies in Las Vegas on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. USC (23-8,
10-8) finished the season 3-0 at neutral sites, recording December wins over Missouri State and Wyoming at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas and beating BYU at the Staples Center. The stakes are higher now for the Trojans, who still remain on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament despite finishing Pac-12 play with a winning record.
“We know the Selection Committee will do what they do, and we have no control over that,” head coach Andy Enfield said.
Regardless of his team’s postseason fate, Enfield said he was proud of his team’s accomplishments thus far.
“I think it’s important to enjoy the moment,” he said. “Or else as a player, coach or associate of the program, you can get caught up in this business for four of five months with a lot of stress and a lot of pressure.”
USC is certainly not overlooking its third meeting of the season with the Huskies (9-21, 2-16). In the
Pac-12, sweeping a three-game season series is an uphill battle — one that the Trojans actually won last year when they defeated the Bruins for the third time in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But Wednesday’s game might look significantly different than Saturday’s, when both teams had a player sit out due to injury. USC lost freshman Jonah Mathews to a concussion over the weekend, but he is cleared to play in the tournament. The guard averaged 20.7 minutes per game this season and 7.4 points and has been among the top perimeter defenders on the squad.
Washington, meanwhile, has missed the presence of star freshman guard Markelle Fultz, who suffered a knee injury in early February. His status remains unknown for Wednesday. If the First Team Pac-12 guard does play, he will transform the Huskies’ squad. Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game this season. He finished second in the conference in assists per game, just ahead of junior guard Jordan McLaughlin, a USC captain and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week.
“Even with Markelle being hurt, this Washington team is really good and well-coached,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin is arguably playing at the top of his game right now. In the last two games, he has dished out 19 assists and scored 38 points.
“[Jordan’s] … our leader,” Enfield said. “When he plays at this level, he gets everyone involved.”
For USC to make a run this postseason, McLaughlin will have to spearhead the offense. He earned an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention this season — one of three Trojans to receive an all-conference honor. Freshman guard De’Anthony Melton earned an Honorable Mention for the All-Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, and should Fultz play on Wednesday, Melton will have to put that defense to work against the fleet-footed guard.
Lastly, sophomore forward Chimezie Metu garnered three honors. In addition to being an Honorable Mention on the All-Academic team, he was named the Most Improved Player and earned a spot on the
All-Pac-12 Second Team. Metu finished the year averaging 14.4 points per game — 8 more than he averaged a year ago. As USC’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, he will also need an explosive March for the Trojans to exceed expectations.
Six-seed USC tips off against the 11-seed Huskies at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The winner of the matchup will move on to face third-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals.