The USC men’s basketball team is coming off of a gut-wrenching 79-82 loss to crosstown rival UCLA this past weekend in Westwood. The defeat, which came down to the final possession of the game, snapped a six-game winning streak in Pac-12 play for USC, the longest conference winning streak in Trojan basketball history since 1992.
However, despite the loss, USC still finds itself sitting in second place in the Pac-12 regular season standings. The Trojans are one game behind conference-leading Arizona, who was upset by Washington last week.
The Trojans are back in action this week, as they will make their way out to the desert to take on Arizona State on Thursday. USC will conclude its weekend road trip with a matchup against the Wildcats on Saturday.
“Our last stretch of the season is going to be a tough one, filled with a lot of road games,” said USC senior guard Elijah Stewart, who scored 20 points in the loss to UCLA Saturday. “But we’re prepared to go in and get a few sweeps, steal a few games on the road.”
The Sun Devils will enter Thursday night’s contest coming off of an 88-78 victory against Washington State on the road. After opening the season on a 12-1 tear through non-conference play, ASU was ranked No. 3 nationally upon entering conference play on Dec. 30.
The Sun Devils have tail-spun through Pac-12 competition thus far, as ASU has opened conference play with a 5-6 record. ASU’s conference struggles have dropped it out of the national rankings entirely.
USC will be posed with the task of slowing down ASU’s primary offensive weapon, senior guard Tra Holder, on Thursday. Leading the Sun Devils in scoring with an average 19 PPG this season, maintaining Holder will be a point of emphasis for the Trojans defensively. Holder recorded 20 points (8-of-13 FG) in the Sun Devils’ win over Washington State last week.
Fellow senior guard Shannon Evans II is also a scoring threat, especially beyond the arc. He averages a team second-most 16.8 points per game on .386 percent 3-point shooting.
Freshman forward Romello White is the team’s primary weapon inside the paint both offensively and defensively. He averages nearly a double-double per game (12.1 points, 7.7 rebounds). Most recently, he scored 21 points and hauled in nine rebounds against Washington State.
White will be an interesting matchup for USC junior forward Chimezie Metu, who leads the Trojans with 41 blocks this year.
USC’s offensive leader all season long has been senior guard and team captain Jordan McLaughlin. The Pac-12’s current leader in assists (averaging 7.7 per game), McLaughlin is also second in the conference in steals (averaging 2 per game).
McLaughlin’s efforts this season were recognized on Monday as he was named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, an honor that celebrates the top point guard in college basketball. From across the nation, McLaughlin was one of just 10 finalists for this award.
“[Being named a finalist] is an honor,” McLaughlin said. “It means that all of my work is showing, on the national level. It’s one thing to be nominated [for the award], but I want to win it.”
McLaughlin’s team will look to break what has been a historically brutal curse against Arizona teams on the road. USC has been swept in its last five consecutive Arizona road trips the team has taken. The last time USC swept its Arizona road trip against the Sun Devils and Wildcats was in 1985.
“There are two really tough teams out there in Arizona,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve just got to go out there and handle out business.”
The Trojans’ road trip finale with Arizona on Saturday is a contest that will be loaded with ramifications in the conference standings. The Pac-12 tournament, which will take place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. from Mar. 7-10, is now only a month away.