USC looks to avoid upset on the road against Washington

Sophomore guard Ethan Anderson had a career-high in the double digits, reaching 19 points in USC’s win over UCLA Saturday night. Anderson’s five made 3-pointers were also a career-high. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

Fresh off an energizing blowout win over UCLA, USC is top of the Pac-12 and set to face Washington at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Alaska Airlines Arena.

USC sits at 15-3 this season and is now ranked 20th in the country by AP after the team’s win over the Bruins. The Trojans hold the top spot in the Pac-12 with eight more regular season games to close out the campaign.

“The team is confident that we can keep winning, however, our league is very good this year,” said head coach Andy Enfield Tuesday. “We also understand that any team in our league can beat us, especially on the road. We obviously had a big win Saturday, but the two games that we play this week on the road present different challenges.”

For the Trojans, away games look and feel a lot different this year with the presence of coronavirus precautions. 

“There are no fans in the arena, which makes it an unusual experience,” Enfield said. “We’re completely isolated when we go on the road, so we have no interaction with anybody but our travel party.” 

Both of the Huskies’ conference wins this year, upset victories over Colorado and Utah, have come at home. Conversely, two of USC’s three losses this season have been on the road. Enfield expects his players to recognize the significance of the away game.

“They have had some big home wins this year,” Enfield said. “Our players will be ready. They understand the importance of this game, and we really respect [them] as a basketball team.”

In terms of personnel, Washington’s main scorer is senior guard Quade Green, who is averaging 15.4 points per game. The team’s marquee 3-point threat is junior guard Jamal Bey, who’s hitting around 54% of his attempts from beyond the arc this season. 

“They’re tough-shot makers,” Enfield said. “They can get hot and beat you from the 3-point line and also are quick enough to get by you and get in the lane.” 

Washington defends predominantly using a zone, something that Enfield noted in his game preparation. The Trojans dispatched the Huskies 95-68 in their previous meeting, and the head coach wants to see more of the same the second time around. 

“Last time we played them, we did a good job of sharing the basketball, hitting the open man and then making shots,” Enfield said. “We have to have a similar game plan where we make the extra pass and make strong and efficient moves to the basket.”

USC’s win over Washington this season saw five players reach double digits in scoring. Freshman forward Evan Mobley leads the squad with an average of 16.3 points per game. The surplus of options on the offensive end has been critical for the Trojans all year. 

“I’m really happy at our position and happy that all our players know that on any night anybody can score double digits and get hot,” said sophomore guard Ethan Anderson Saturday night. “We have a team that can keep this momentum rolling.”

The Trojans have grown into a cohesive unit this year despite an irregular offseason and just three returning players from last season’s team.

“We [have] so many new faces, and we didn’t have an offseason to work with our players or have them even get to know each other,” Enfield said. “The coaching staff [is] very impressed how this group of new players has bought into the team concept. We’re a much better team now than we were at the beginning of the season because we finally got to know each other and our players [are] very unselfish.”

As the regular season reaches its final third, USC has its sights set on the postseason and a Pac-12 championship. Enfield doesn’t want to look too far ahead just yet. 

“It’s a game-by-game season,” Enfield said. “We have to focus on each game, we can’t look ahead. Our league is outstanding this year with a lot of talented teams that can beat you on any given night.”