After trailing by 13 points just 8 minutes into the game, things were not looking great for USC. The Trojans came out of the gates flat, shooting poorly and looking sloppy on offense.
The slow start sparked a timeout speech from USC assistant coach Chris Capko so loud the seats across town at Galen Center were probably rocking. USC was facing defeat — possibly its fourth in the last two weeks after losing just three over the first month in a half.
The Trojans were speechless with their mouths shut, looking for a spark, and the Bruins were confident, ready to secure a much-needed victory.
However, a determined second half effort helped USC scrap and crawl back into a position to win the game. With seconds remaining and the game left in the balance, the Trojans had possession and were down only two points.
Doing his best Jonah Mathews impression, redshirt senior Tahj Eaddy nailed a fading three-point basket with one second left to give USC a 64-63 victory over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.
“I was taught at an early age that great players have a short-term memory,” Eaddy said. “I understand what I’m capable of offensively, I know how well I can shoot the ball, I know how well I can score the ball. My confidence will never waver.”
The final minutes of the game were a scramble. After cutting the deficit down to two with 11:49 remaining, USC found themselves down 8 points with five minutes left.
USC proceeded to go on a 7-0 run, cutting the UCLA lead down to one point with 2:25 remaining. The Bruins responded with a basket at 1:57 to extend their lead to 3. UCLA failed to score afterward, putting USC in position to steal the win.
After a jump ball went the Trojans way forcing an out-of-bounds play, they were only moments away from what would eventually be Eaddy’s game-winner. .
However, there was still a long way to go from that point for USC.
“Sometimes in the game of basketball, the defense takes away your first option or your second option and you have to just play basketball,” head coach Andy Enfield said in a virtual press conference Saturday. “And that’s what we did on that last play and Tahj made a big time shot.”
It was a shot that salvaged the Trojans’ chances of winning the Pac-12 championship, after a stretch where they lost three out of four games.
Fortunately for USC, the game proved to be a tale of two halves. In the opening seven minutes, UCLA came out with a vengeance, shooting 8/10 from the field, sparking an 18-7 lead. USC played without energy and looked flat enough for Enfield to furiously fold the scouting report he had into his pocket.
The Bruins shot 60% from the field in the first half and 67% from the three-point line, catapulting the team to an 11-point lead at halftime. However, the second half was a different story.
The Trojans suffocated their hosts, forcing the Bruins to shoot 42 % from the field and 33% from beyond the 3-point line. USC also shot 51% from the field and 41% from 3 after not making a single one in the first half, as well as winning the rebounding margin 32 to 26.
“Their shot makers were making shots … I was just hoping that they would start missing a few of them,” Enfield said. “Eventually, our defense tightened up and we challenged as many shots as we could and we’re fortunate to have [had] a chance at the end based on how hard we were playing defensively.”
The win against UCLA puts USC in position to win the Pac-12 title if Oregon State defeats Oregon Sunday. Enfield praised the group after the game for having so much success despite only three returning rotational players from last season.
“The thing that sets this team apart is when you walk in the gym every day they come to work, and there’s not a lot of nonsense,” Enfield said. “And they have a great spirit and a team camaraderie about them.”
USC will play in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 conference tournament Thursday in Las Vegas.