It was not the ideal start they expected, but USC managed to use a second half rally to come away with a tightly contested 78-73 victory over Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
After trailing the Huskies by a basket at the half, USC opened the second half on a scoring run that gave it the only lead change of the game.
A 3-point field goal from Washington sophomore guard Matisse Thybulle put the Huskies ahead of the Trojans 37-27 with 3:33 remaining in the first half. USC responded by finishing the first half on a 10-2 run that was capped off with a dunk from USC sophomore Chimezie Metu. The Trojans trailed Washington at the half, 39-37.
USC’s 14-5 run to open the second half gave the Trojans a 52-44 lead over Washington with just under 15 minutes remaining in regulation. USC took its first lead of the game on a dunk from Metu that put it ahead of the Huskies, 43-42, with 17:25 left in the second half. This dunk from Metu gave USC a lead it would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
The Trojans used a 9-0 scoring run midway through the second half to solidify its lead over Washington. A 3-point field goal from junior guard Elijah Stewart gave the Trojans their largest lead of the game at 67-53 with 9:10 left in play.
“We were just being smart and trying to take care of the basketball tonight,” junior guard Jordan McLaughlin said to the Pac-12 Network. “I was just trying to make the smart play and tried not to force things out there.”
Washington was able to pull within 3 points of USC with just over 20 seconds remaining in play. However, USC redshirt junior Shaqquan Aaron was able to hit a pair of free throws after being intentionally fouled to put the Trojans ahead by the final score of 78-73.
Metu was the offensive catalyst for the Trojans Wednesday, as he recorded game-highs in points scored (24) and rebounds (9) against the Huskies.
Defensively, USC put together a stout performance against Washington in its first Pac-12 Tournament game. The Trojans, who finished the regular season as the top-stealing team in the Pac-12, were able to swipe away a total of 14 steals Wednesday.
USC’s steals were able to contribute toward its transition attack, as the Trojans finished with 18 points off of Washington’s 17 turnovers in the game.
Washington had a strong shooting start in the first half against USC. The Huskies finished the first half by hitting 16-of-28 (57.1 percent) shot attempts. Washington opened the contest by hitting five of its first nine shots (72.7 percent) from 3-point range.
USC was able to advance to the second round of conference tournament play despite a difficult night shooting from long distance. The Trojans finished Wednesday night shooting only 4-for-16 (25 percent) from deep.
With the victory, USC (the No. 6 seed in the tournament) will now take on No. 3 seed UCLA in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament Thursday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
This will be the third consecutive season in which the Trojans and Bruins do battle in the Pac-12 Tournament. USC and No. 3 UCLA split their regular season series in 2017, each team taking the matchup on its respective home floor.
“We’ve just got to bring the energy and come ready to play,” McLaughlin said. “The last time we played them we came out with energy, but we kind of quit on ourselves in the second half. We’ve just got to bring out energy.”