USC men’s basketball defeated Arizona 80-57 at home Thursday. The victory was highlighted by overpowering first-half play and the return of freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr.
The Trojans took a commanding 16-7 lead, forcing Arizona to regroup and use a timeout. Afterward, USC brought in Porter, who had missed the team’s previous two games due to a suspension. He hit a 3-pointer at the first opportunity, clearly energized to be back. Porter would go on to miss two dunks and commit two fouls, although his presence was welcomed.
“[Porter] came in and played within the flow of the offense,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He fit in perfectly.”
Junior forward Nick Rakocevic led the offensive charge in the opening minutes with 6 straight points. He demonstrated effective movement of the ball by cutting past Arizona senior center Ryan Luther for uncontested layups. Even when guarded, Rakocevic used his long wingspan to lay it in at the block.
Junior guard Jonah Mathews made a strong effort on the defensive side with a steal and subsequent 3-point play early on. In Arizona’s next run, he deflected a Wildcat pass to force a scoreless possession. Arizona would continue to turn the ball over and give USC more opportunities to extend their lead.
USC had offensive contributions throughout the night from many different sources, including star senior forward and captain Bennie Boatwright. Rakocevic continued to capitalize on the size mismatch that was presented to him and racked up 12 points on 6-7 shooting. With six minutes left in the first half, the Trojans held a commanding 29-15 lead.
Arizona’s offensive struggles continued as USC played lockdown defense. The Wildcats were unable to penetrate and continued to shoot threes that wouldn’t fall. USC took a commanding 36-19 lead at the end of the first half after junior guard Derryck Thornton hit a buzzer-beating 3-point shot.
“It all starts with defense,” Rakocevic said. “If we get some stops, that allows us to create offensively.”
Rakocevic continued to play the mismatch to his advantage, making 4 points in the opening minutes of the second half. Senior guard Shaqquan Aaron’s presence was felt as well. He grabbed two offensive rebounds and finished a short-range shot with strong displays of hustle. The Trojans continued to dominate the game four minutes into the second half, with Boatwright completing a double-double on an uncontested three.
The Wildcats attempted to come back, but Porter hit two more threes to eliminate any chance of a momentum shift. The daunting score deficit remained with the Trojans ahead in the final 10 minutes of the second half, 53-33.
The remainder of the second half was highlighted by excellent shooting and stellar defense by the Trojans. USC held Arizona to a mere 27.8 percent shooting overall and 20 percent 3-point shooting.
“We played 40 minutes of zone,” Enfield said. “Our players were rotating, helping and sliding out to the 3-point line to challenge shots.”
Rakocevic ended the game with an efficient double-double of 27 points and 12 rebounds. Porter impressed in his return as well, scoring 14 points. As a whole, the team contributed to a 50 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
The Trojans will look to carry their strong play into another home game against Arizona State this Saturday at 5 p.m.