Men’s hoops look to end skid against Oregon schools

A trip to the desert resulted in a dry spell for the USC men’s basketball team last week. The Trojans suffered a pair of losses to Arizona State and Arizona during their most recent road trip.

Junior forward Bennie Boatwright has tallied the second-most points for the Men of Troy in the 2017-18 season. George Lydakis | Daily Trojan

USC’s 80-78 loss to the Sun Devils on Feb. 8 saw them go scoreless over the final two-and-a-half minutes of regulation. In that same span of time, ASU finished the game on a 9-0 run to steal the contest from the Trojans in the final moments.

In a game which could have granted USC a share of the Pac-12 conference lead with a win, the Trojans got off to a fast start against Arizona.

With 9:08 remaining in the first half, USC was leading the Wildcats 20-18. After calling a timeout, Arizona proceeded to go on a 9-0 run, giving the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest.

“Two of our last three games have been lost at the buzzer. We’ve found ourselves in a couple of challenging road games,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “We’ve been playing good basketball, but we’ve just had some unlucky bounces at the end of those games. We ourselves have been the cause of some of those unlucky bounces by missing shots late in games that other teams have converted on.”

USC’s 81-67 loss to the Wildcats extended the Trojans’ current losing streak to Arizona to eight games. Moreover, the Trojans’ rough fortune in Arizona continued further last week: USC has now been swept in its last eight consecutive road trips to the Arizona schools.

The losses to ASU and Arizona extend USC’s current losing streak to three games.

USC will host Oregon at the Galen Center Thursday night, looking to avoid a four-game losing streak. The Trojans last underwent a four-game losing streak during February of the 2016-17 season which sent them downward in the conference standings.

“We’re still positive, and we’re excited for the chance to play these Oregon schools,” said USC junior forward Bennie Boatwright, who has averaged 14.2 PPG this season. “It’s definitely a big week for us.”

The Ducks will enter Thursday’s contest coming off of an 84-57 home victory over Washington State. Oregon has won five of its last six games in conference play and currently sits third in the Pac-12 standings.

In the win over WSU, Oregon sophomore guard Payton Pritchard recorded a game-high 19 points (7-of-13 FG). Pritchard is the Ducks’ primary offensive weapon, as he leads his team in scoring this season, averaging 14.4 PPG.

On Jan. 18, USC defeated Oregon on the road in Eugene 75-70. Boatwright and junior forward Chimezie Metu each chipped in with 18 points for the Trojan victory. The win snapped USC’s 14-game losing streak to the Ducks, which dated back to the 2009 season.

On Thursday night, the Trojans will look to end another losing streak against Oregon. USC is winless in its last seven home games against the Ducks.

“We’re just going to have to defend. [Oregon] is a very talented team with a lot of guys who can score the basketball,” USC sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic said. “Our team is able to bring a lot of size and length on defense. So it’s just going to come down to playing hard on defense.”

Despite its recent losing skid, USC is still very much in the race in the Pac-12 standings. The Trojans are currently tied for second in the conference standings with rival UCLA. With five conference games remaining, USC is just two games behind Pac-12 leader Arizona.

The Pac-12 conference in general is still very much up for grabs. In what resembles a clustered mess, the conference standings show that the eight teams currently slated in the No. 2 through No. 9 spots in the Pac-12 are all separated by just one game or less.

The Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas begins on March 7. USC concludes the regular season with a pivotal game against UCLA on March 3.

“We’re extremely excited about what can happen over the course of these final five games,” Enfield said. “But right now we are completely focused on playing well against a solid Oregon team.”