Trojans return home after two-game slide on the road

Standing at 18-7 after their recent losses at Arizona and Arizona State, the now unranked Trojans continue to have their biggest weakness exposed: playing on the road.

Wednesday night, the Men of Troy look to protect their unbeaten 14-0 record at home against the visiting Colorado Buffaloes (19-7), chasing USC’s historic 20-game home winning streak achieved between 1939 and 1941.

The Trojans (18-7) have already secured the best home record in a single season by winning 14 games at the Galen Center this year and could add to that number with wins against Colorado Wednesday and Utah on Sunday.

Winning their 15th straight at home will be challenging, however, considering USC is now 7-5 in Pac-12 play and riding a two-game losing streak against two teams the Trojans previously defeated at home.

“We’re just trying to regain focus; this is the second road trip we’ve gone on and didn’t get a win,” freshman forward Chimezie Metu said. “So, we’re just trying to come home and regain our focus.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, head coach Andy Enfield gave his players some slack for going on the road, but reaffirmed his commitment to winning basketball games.

“For the most part this year, we’ve played extremely hard, so I’m not going to get upset at our players,” Enfield said. “But there are times when in key stretches of games, when the other teams are going on runs, where you have to really focus, and you’ve just got to lay it on the line.”

USC’s Friday loss at Arizona State was plagued with missed opportunities as the Men of Troy only made two of their 11 3-point attempts and also turned over the ball 17 times.

Not to mention, the Trojans fouled the Sun Devils 20 times, leading to ASU sinking 16 of its 26 free-throw shots to go along with their 41 percent overall shooting percentage.

Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, usually a cool-headed shooter, was held scoreless as he missed all four of his field goals while fouling out. Nikola Jovanovic was exceptional in Tempe, recording a game-high 15 rebounds and 25 points.

Against Arizona, USC lost again but not for the same reasons as they had against the Sun Devils.

In Tucson, the Trojans limited their turnovers to just eight, shot 44 percent from beyond the arc and were virtually neck and neck with the Wildcats in terms of rebounding but still dropped their second straight.

Arizona managed to shoot 50 percent from the field, knocking down eight three pointers and 18 of their 24 free-throws en route to an 8-point win.

Instead of freshman forward Bennie Boatwright fouling out, Metu fouled out against Arizona while Boatwright scored a game-high 18 points.

In their two games against the Wildcats and Sun Devils, USC lost by an average of 7.5 points, culminating to an average margin of defeat of 8.6 in their 2015-2016 campaign.

With a 19-7 Colorado team coming into Los Angeles Wednesday, the Trojans will have to deal with a ballclub which is third in the Pac-12, holding eight wins against the likes of Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Cal.

Of those teams, USC still has yet to conquer Oregon and Oregon State after losing to both schools in late January 89-81 and 85-70, respectively.

A potential point of improvement for this team could be 3-point defense and foul trouble.

In their last two games, the Trojans have amassed 40 personal fouls, leading to 50 free-throws and 34 points. As for the 3-point defense, USC has limited opponents from beyond the arc, ranking first in the Pac-12 with just 30.5 percent of 3s going past the Trojans.

The Buffaloes, however, rank first in the Pac-12 in 3-point offense, splashing 39.6 percent of their long balls thanks to 3-point master George King, who has completed 54 of his 119 3-pointers while averaging 14.3 points per game.

The Buffs also rank first in the Pac-12 in free-throw percentage, sinking 476 of their 648 shots. Among the top free-throw shooters for Colorado are Xavier Talton, Tre’Shaun Fletcher and Dominique Collier who have combined for 122 of 149 from the charity stripe.

With four home games left in the season, USC still has a chance to finish their season off strong taking into account their success in L.A. At home, the Men of Troy have an average margin of victory of 16.1, outscoring opponents by 19 points or more at a total of seven times.

“The Pac-12 is really tough on the road, just like we haven’t really won any road games, people haven’t won at Galen Center,” Metu said. “For the tournament, it’s at neutral sites; that’s a whole other ballgame.”

If the Trojans can utilize preventive interior defensive practices and not foul Colorado’s good shooters while still maintaining an impermeable outside presence, USC’s home winning streak could potentially be extended to 15.

The 18-7 Trojans are set to battle the 19-7 Buffaloes at 8 p.m. at the Galen Center.