Men’s hoops hits the road for one game

Matt Karatsu | Daily Trojan Throw it down · Freshman guard De’Anthony Melton is a spark off the bench for the Trojans and leads the Pac-12 in steals with 18 this year.

Matt Karatsu | Daily Trojan
Throw it down · Freshman guard De’Anthony Melton is a spark off the bench for the Trojans and leads the Pac-12 in steals with 18 this year.

After three home games last week, USC (6-0) tips-off against the University of San Diego Toreros (2-4) at the Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The Trojans are off to their best start since the 2000-01 season (8-0), and their success can be attributed to their depth. Five players are averaging double digits, and freshman guard De’Anthony Melton is scoring 9.7 points per game.

At times, Melton has looked like USC’s best player. Despite coming off the bench every game, he has been on the court at the end of every close contest. His crucial steal with 10 seconds to play at Texas A&M sealed the Trojan’s third victory of the young season. Three games later, Melton is the Pac-12 leader in steals with 18 on the season. Additionally, the 6-foot-4 guard is shooting a team-high 56 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three. He is also averaging 5.8 rebounds per game, third on the team, and 3.3 assists per game, second on the team.

Other newcomers have stepped up too. Louisville transfer, redshirt sophomore Shaqquan Aaron is second on the team in scoring and fourth in field goal percentage. Freshman Jonah Mathews, albeit streaky at times, has shown glimpses of stellar all-around basketball. He is only shooting 27.8 percent from 3 this far, but he will certainly raise that number as he continues to adjust to the collegiate level. Nonetheless, he is third on the team in assists with 12, and he is second on the team in assists-per-40-minutes with 5.1. Like Matthews, freshman forward Nick Rakocevic is also contributing 5 points per game. He adds 3.7 rebounds per contest and leads the team in rebounds-per-40-minutes with 10.7.

Head coach Andy Enfield has been able to play all 13 men on the roster this season, and he has eight in the rotation. No one plays more than captains junior guard Jordan McLaughlin (32.7 mpg) and sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright (30.0 mpg), so everyone should have fresh legs come conference play.

Another good sign for the Trojans last week was that their offense came to life. The team had been shooting under 30 percent from behind the arc in their first three games, but USC shot 44 percent from downtown last week, making 37 3s. Boatwright’s return has certainly aided the Trojans. After two rough games versus Texas A&M and New Orleans, Boatwright averaged 19 points versus SMU and UCSB, making nine of 18 3s.

In just their second true road game of the season, the Trojans will be targets of another trap game. The Toreros will be prepared for USC after a challenging schedule so far that included match-ups versus UCLA and Samford. The team can stretch the floor very well with three players shooting above 45 percent from 3. Senior forward Brett Bailey leads the Toreros in scoring at 17.5 points per game. In USD’s most recent game, a home loss to New Mexico State, Bailey posted 24 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Sophomore guard Olin Carter III is second on the team in scoring at 16.0 points per game. Bailey and Carter have scored roughly 48 percent of their team’s points this season, so if USC can shut them down, they will make winning on the road a whole lot easier.

Last year, USC and USD met at the Galen Center in the Trojans home opener. USC won 83-45. Now, they try to sweep the home-and-home series and go 6-0 all-time versus the Toreros and 7-0 on the season.