The USC men’s basketball team has gone 6-7 in its last 13 games after starting the season 13-2. With only three games to go in the regular season, the Trojans have a big test this week against Arizona and Arizona State. The Trojans, who are 11-2 at Galen Center, will be playing at home for the rest of the season.
USC is now in sixth place in the Pac-12 standings after being as high as first earlier this season. With Arizona and Arizona State both ahead of the Trojans in the conference, USC will need to start making some noise down the stretch.
While the Trojans have not played well as of late, head coach Andy Enfield is keeping the focus on his player’s health.
“We were just worried about our guys and their health,” Enfield told the Los Angeles Times. “Obviously we want to make the tournament, but we were just worried about our guys. We weren’t thinking about [the tournament].”
The Trojans will first face the Wildcats Thursday in a whiteout game for Trojan fans. The Wildcats will enter the showdown hot, having won six of their last eight games. Arizona nearly beat the No. 14 Oregon Ducks in a 73-72 overtime thriller Saturday.
In their previous matchup earlier this month, the Wildcats beat the Trojans 85-80 in one of USC’s higher-scoring games after the Trojans rallied from a 20-point deficit. If the Trojans have any hope of beating the Wildcats this time around, they will have to do a better job of starting out strong.
Arizona freshman forward Zeke Nnaji has been one of the team’s most productive players this season. Scoring an average of 16.3 points per game and shooting over 50%, Nnaji has been a player that opponents have had difficulty containing.
On the other hand, USC has its own share of high-flying freshmen. Forwards Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley have put pressure on their opponents on both ends of the floor. Okongwu has averaged 16.7 points this season while Mobley has averaged more than five rebounds per game. The freshman duo has been a strong point for USC through almost every game they’ve played.
Likewise, veteran senior guard Jonah Mathews has been a leader for USC. The captain has had a strong season this year, scoring 360 points — the second most on the team — through an average of 31.8 minutes per game, more than any other Trojan. Mathews also has 22 more 3-pointers than any other Trojan at 60, and he will need to show up against Arizona after scoring just 6 points against the Wildcats in their last meeting.
USC will then take on the now-first-place Sun Devils in a game Saturday at 5 p.m. Though the Sun Devils have a 10-4 conference record, they are not nationally ranked.
Still, the Sun Devils have shocked many Pac-12 teams this year. Riding a seven-game winning streak, ASU has shown no signs of slowing down. The Trojans almost gave the Sun Devils their ninth loss of the season earlier this month but lost 66-64 after giving up a 13-point lead.
One player the Trojans have to look out for is junior guard Remy Martin, who has led the Sun Devils in points this season with 517 and minutes with 902. In addition, he is third on the team in rebounds with 88.
USC hopes to avenge its losses this week as it aims to secure a top-four seed in the Pac-12. By doing so, they will receive a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Furthermore, the end goal for the Trojans is to make the NCAA Tournament, an appearance that has eluded them in three years, and their recent loss to an underwhelming Utah team certainly didn’t help their odds.
“It’s tough to reckon with,” Mobley told the L.A. Times on the Trojans’ latest woes. “But we just have to keep fighting. The season isn’t over yet.”
Currently on the bubble, USC has gone back and forth between the first four in and first four out for the NCAA Tournament according to many experts. College basketball analyst Andy Katz has USC as the No. 10 seed in the East division in his latest bracket prediction. If the Trojans can steal impressive wins against Arizona and Arizona State and follow that with a win over crosstown rival UCLA, they could solidify their spot in March Madness.
“If we win those three games, then all will be well,” freshman guard Ethan Anderson told the L.A. Times.
The Trojans will begin the crucial weekend against the Wildcats in a 7 p.m. tilt Thursday at Galen Center.