USC set to face UCLA at Pauley Pavillion

Sophomore guard Ethan Anderson had a season-high 19 points in USC’s win over UCLA in February. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

USC gears up to close out the season against UCLA on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, a rivalry game that could end up deciding the Pac-12 regular season champion. After UCLA’s loss to Oregon Wednesday night, the Trojans’ title hopes continue to hang by a thread. They need a win in their final game and an Oregon State upset over Oregon Sunday to regain the top spot in the conference. 

“I think we’re right there,”  head coach Andy Enfield said. “We’ve got a game on Saturday to worry about and that’s it. We can’t control anything else. We’re just going to focus on what we can control, and that is to prepare as best we can and play as hard as we can.”

Coming off of two consecutive deflating losses on the road to Colorado and Utah, the Trojans were able to get some rest and bounce back against Stanford in a dominant 79-42 win Wednesday night at Galen Center. 

“We were just flat out exhausted after four games in a week when we went on that long trip,” Enfield said. “Our guys had nothing left by the time we came back. It was nice to take a day off then [have] two really good days of practice to prepare for [Stanford].” 

The road trip was the first time USC had lost consecutive games this season, and the team was focused on getting back on track to close out the campaign.

“March is here,” redshirt senior Chevez Goodwin said. “This is the time of year where [it’s] make or break. If you lose, you go home. We had to get back on track and go into tournament play with a lot of confidence and positive energy.” 

UCLA is undefeated at home this season with a notable win over Colorado, a team that has played spoiler to both USC and UCLA’s title bids. Their biggest producers have been sophomore guard Johnny Juzang and senior guard Chris Smith, who have averaged 14.2 and 12.6 points per game on the season, respectively.

“Offensively, they’ve been dangerous all season,” Enfield said. “They can score at every position. All five guys on the court can score the ball. It’s going to be a very challenging game for us to go into Pauley Pavilion and try to win, but we’ll give it our best shot.” 

The Trojans ran wild last time they played  against the Bruins in a 66-48 win Feb. 6 at Galen Center. Guard play carried USC rather than UCLA, with sophomore guard Ethan Anderson and redshirt senior guard Tahj Eaddy scoring 19 and 16 points, respectively. 

Eaddy’s individual success on a game-to-game basis dictates the pace of USC’s play, as he’s had big performances against the likes of Oregon and UCLA, two games that USC dominated in. The converse is true as well, as USC’s struggles have correlated with Eaddy’s shooting slumps, such as the team’s most recent loss to Utah, where he shot 2-10 from the field with just four points.

“He showed his leadership [against Stanford],” Enfield said. “He had a couple of off games, and I thought it was very important for him to get back to playing like that all-conference guard he’s been the whole season.”

With the final game of the regular season awaiting them, the Trojans will have one more shot to make a grab at the top spot in the Pac-12. 

“We’re so impressed with our young men,” Enfield said. “To come together with a brand new team and to have 20 wins right now is a credit to how our players have played together and have had that energy and spirit. We understand that we have a huge game on Saturday, and then we have a big week the following week, and an even bigger week after that. Our season’s not done.”