A pair of strong victories over the weekend have helped stabilize the USC men’s basketball team after it underwent a bumpy start to Pac-12 competition this season.
A 20-point scoring effort from senior guard Jordan McLaughlin propelled the Trojans past visiting Colorado on Jan. 10, 70-58. The victory over the Buffs was followed up by an 84-67 USC routing of Utah on Sunday, a game which saw the Trojans hit a season-high 14 3-pointers as a team.
USC’s (13-6) weekend sweep at the Galen Center improved it’s conference record to 4-2 this season and moved it into a tie for second-place with UCLA in the Pac-12 standings.
“Every game in our league is a challenging one this season — we’re in a very deep conference,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re happy with how we played this past week. We beat two tough teams at home and we’ve been playing some good basketball.”
The Trojans will look to extend their conference winning-streak to three games Thursday night, as they travel to Eugene to take on Oregon (12-6, 2-3). The Ducks, who are coming off a 90-83 loss to No. 14 Arizona, are led offensively by sophomore guard Payton Pritchard (who is averaging a team-high 15 PPG).
“We’ve been playing some good basketball, very well on the defensive side of things over the past five games,” Enfield said. “We know it’s going to take another good defensive effort from our guys to pick up a win at Oregon.”
Pac-12 losses to Arizona (Jan. 13), Oregon State (Jan. 5) and Utah (Dec. 29) have dropped Oregon to a 2-3 record in conference play this season. The Ducks currently find themselves situated at eighth in the Pac-12 standings.
USC was swept in its series against Oregon last season, losing both games in double-digit fashion. When the Trojans traveled to Oregon last season, they returned with an 84-61 blowout loss to the Ducks. USC has not won a road contest against Oregon since the 2008-2009 season.
“We’ve just got to show up and play some solid defense for an entire 40 minutes and knock down some shots,” McLaughlin, said. “It’s a little tough to be playing there, but then again every road game is tougher … If we can stick to playing fast, smart, unselfish, we should be in it.”
McLaughlin, who leads the conference with 7.6 APG this season, is also averaging 13.2 PPG and has been the main offensive cog for the Trojans all season long. USC will look to McLaughlin to feed the other three Trojans scoring in double-figures this season: junior forwards Chimezie Metu (team-high 16.7 PPG) and Bennie Boatwright (15.4 PPG) and senior guard Elijah Stewart (10.9 PPG).
“[McLaughlin’s] a great leader for us, and it’s really showing on the court right now,” Metu said. “If you’re in the right place on the floor, he’ll find you. He’s a guy who will make the right pass 10 times out of 10.”
After losing to Stanford back on Jan. 7 in the most devastating of fashions (allowing a 55-foot 3-pointer as time expired in regulation), USC has responded resiliently by racking up back-to-back conference victories, both by double digits.
After doing battle at Oregon on Thursday night, USC will proceed to play Oregon State (10-7, 2-3) in Corvallis on Saturday.
Following a rocky non-conference outing this season, USC will have another opportunity to continue its upward trek in the conference standings this weekend. A successful weekend sweep of the Oregon schools would have the Trojans flirting with the top spot in the Pac-12 standings.
“We’ve just got to take this road trip one game at a time,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll keep all our focus on [Oregon] first and see what goes from there.”