Having lost three of their last four games heading into Thursday night’s action against Stanford, the Trojans did not play like a team desperate to regain ground in a tight Pac-12 conference, falling 84-64 to the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion.
As has been the case in recent games, the Trojans (19-9, 8-7) fell behind early and — unlike the Colorado game — could not recover.
“Stanford played an excellent basketball game,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “They made a lot of shots. In the first half, they shot a high percentage. Some were open, some were contested. Give them credit. They outplayed us and outshot us in the first half.”
In an abysmal first half, USC shot just 25.9 percent from the field with Bennie Boatwright, Nikola Jovanovic, Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs held to just five combined points on 0-for-15 shooting, and the Trojans trailed 43-25 at halftime. The 25 points were the lowest USC has scored in a half all season.
Enfield’s change in the starting lineup — swapping Elijah Stewart for Katin Reinhardt — made little difference.
“Four of our starters were 0 for 15 at halftime,” Enfield said. “Look, they’ve been playing very good basketball all season. They feel bad; they played hard, but just not well enough tonight. I’ll take the blame for that. I switched the starting lineup up — the starting lineup that I put out there didn’t shoot the ball well, so that’s on me.”
Meanwhile, the Cardinal (14-12, 7-8) shot it at a 43.3 percent clip in the first half and an even better 46.7 mark from 3-point range. Dorian Pickens recorded 22 points in the half alone and Stanford capitalized for 13 points off seven USC turnovers.
Pickens finished with a career 25 points, while Rosco Allen had 17. Katin Reinhardt’s 14 points led the Trojans.
Stewart noted the Trojans had a game plan for Allen — the 10th leading scorer in the Pac-12 — but instead it was a bench player who did most of the harm.
“[Pickens] got off to a hot start, and he didn’t ever cool off,” Stewart said. “That was crazy. We focused in on Allen, but, unfortunately, he wasn’t the one who went off. It was really frustrating. [Pickens] hit everything tonight.”
The loss moves the all-time USC-Stanford record to 125-122, but Stanford has now won the last five matchups. USC has not won at Maples Pavilion since Feb. 14, 2013.
“[Stanford] came out and shot the ball really well in the first half,” Reinhardt said. “We couldn’t stop them. They were shooting the crap out of the ball and when a team does that, even though we played very hard, we get beaten. Kudos to them. They played harder than us. That’s how you win games.”
It was a slow offensive start for both teams, with the Trojans starting 1-for-6 and committing three early turnovers while the Cardinal opened 2-for-7. But the action picked up after the first timeout, with the two teams combining to make five 3-pointers in the ensuing minutes. Sophomore guard Elijah Stewart hit a tough shot from beyond-the-arc to give the Trojans a 14-11 lead as they connected on five consecutive shots.
But Stanford went on an 18-4 run to claim a double-digit advantage. Pickens knocked down three 3-pointers in a row; a fourth triple put the Cardinal up 29-18. The Cardinal continued their onslaught as the Trojans allowed open shots and struggled on the offensive end. USC went scoreless for a nearly five-minute stretch while Stanford continued to dominate and expand its lead to as large as 20 at one point.
The second half was more of the same, as the Trojans failed to make any substantial push and the Cardinal maintained their large lead.
The Cardinal’s proficiency on offense prevented the Trojans from playing their preferred, up-tempo pace. USC managed just two fast break points in a half-court style game.
“In order to play a faster tempo, you have to rebound the ball and push it in transition,” Enfield said. “We did that early for a little bit — I think we had a 3-point lead — we got a shot in the lane and a 3 in transition, but we just weren’t stopping them enough in the first half. They made a lot of jump shots and played very good basketball.”
Now sixth in the conference, the Trojans will travel to Cal to take on the fourth-place Bears on Sunday.