When sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley hit the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer to open his scoring, his shooting stroke was smooth and confident. His aggressive attitude didn’t stop there, as Mobley went on to light the Kansas Jayhawks up early with four threes and 14 total points in the first half. The Trojans rode his hot hand through the first period, taking a 40-21 into the break. Head coach Andy Enfield and company wouldn’t step off the gas in the second half, and the No. 6 Trojans rode their phenomenal defense to a 85-51 upset win over No. 3 Kansas in Indianapolis, Ind. Monday night.
“I’ve been shooting well, so the coaches have been giving me all the confidence to shoot it,” Isaiah said. “When I got my opportunities, I took them … I don’t necessarily like to sit on the three always, but if they’re giving it to me I’m gonna take them.”
Evenly spread-out scoring has been a recipe for USC’s success this season, and this game was no different. The team had five players in double digits for points: Isaiah finished with 17, freshman forward Evan Mobley had 10, redshirt senior guards Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy had 13 and 12, respectively, and Chevez Goodwin chipped in 10 off the bench.
“Everyone contributed tonight whether it showed up on the stat sheet or not,” Isaiah said. “That’s the reason we won by the margin that we did against such a great, prestigious school like Kansas … Like I said, when we’re confident, I believe in our team, that we could go up against anybody.”
Enfield, who has resided over the men’s basketball programs’ rise over the last few years, has the Trojans in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007. He dedicated the win to his late father who passed away last September.
“I thought about him a lot, in fact, I saw a picture of him right before the game that my mother sent me,” Enfield said. “He was a total man-to-man coach — I’m sure he would’ve been very happy to see our zone [defense] tonight. But thank you, dad. You meant a lot to me as a coach and as a father.”
The team’s coaching staff had some extra motivation to win, according to Enfield, which came from pregame forecasts on CBS that predicted Kansas as the winners.
“I really wanna thank CBS,” he said. “They said Andy Enfield coached teams and USC teams [are] so undisciplined … We were extremely hungry, and the coaches were just as hungry as the players.”
Kansas started off the game ice cold from the field, missing 10 of its first 11 shots before calling a timeout down 12-3 with 12:43 to go in the first half. USC’s defense stifled the Jayhawks for a good portion of the first half, allowing the Trojan offense to find rhythm and go on an 11-0 run to end the first half.
The Jayhawks did their best to mount a second half comeback, but simply couldn’t knock down their shots, even the open ones. Kansas shot 29% from the field on the night, and key players such as junior forward David McCormack weren’t able to get many good looks at the basket.
“Just making sure we limited [McCormack’s] touches,” Isaiah said. “He’s a big, active dude … Limiting his touches helped us slow him down because when he caught it in there, he was a load to guard.”
USC’s win cemented its spot as the fourth Pac-12 team to make the Sweet 16 in this year’s tournament, joining UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon. The Trojans will move on to face the No. 7 Oregon Ducks, who are fresh off an upset of the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes.
“As a member of the conference, you wanna see [other conference teams] do well,” Isaiah said. “I feel like our conference has been a little bit disrespected throughout the year … But now, we’re showing when it matters most, what our conference can do.”
The Trojans will continue their tournament run against the Ducks Sunday. The Sweet 16 matchup tips off at 6.45 p.m.
“This is literally what you dream for,” Isaiah said. “Future says ‘Beat the odds, do numbers and remain humble.’ So just trying to keep that motto and just keep it rolling from here on out.”