USC confident as they prepare for Pac-12 tournament

Senior guard Boogie Ellis was named to the 2023 Pac-12 All-Conference first team, alongside fifth-year guard Drew Peterson. (Cassandra Yra | Daily Trojan)

March is upon us.

As the pinnacle of college basketball is nearing, the Trojans are hopeful they will hear their names called March 12, also known as Selection Sunday.

But before the NCAA tournament is finalized, USC still has to play in the Pac-12 tournament, a four day, bracket-style event in Las Vegas. The Trojans are seeded third in the tournament, behind UCLA and the University of Arizona, meaning they received a first-round bye and did not have to play Wednesday. The team will play its first game Thursday at 8:30 p.m. against the winner of Arizona State, who defeated Oregon State Wednesday night.

“We just played Arizona State, so we’ve watched enough game video on them the last few days … It’s going to be an easy scout because we just played them,” said Head Coach Andy Enfield in an interview with the Daily Trojan.

If the Trojans win their first game, they play their next game less than 24 hours later. The last time USC had to play games on consecutive days was back in November during the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis, when they played three games in as many days.

Freshman guard Tre White thinks the team will be up to the task, despite having such a short turnaround between games.

“Since the beginning of the season our strength coach, he’s been saying we’ve got to be strong in March. So we’ve really been harping on that,” said White in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “I think it’s just an accumulation of the things we’ve been doing.”

The Trojans have not had much success in tournaments recently, amassing a 2-4 record over their past three tournaments, including the Battle 4 Atlantis, the 2022 Pac-12 tournament and subsequent 2022 NCAA Tournament.

USC will look to flip the script though, as their team looks much different now than in November. Coming out of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, the Trojans were 4-3 on the season, but have gone 18-6 since.

Part of that success is due to underclassmen becoming more comfortable in larger roles. That comfort has shown up on the stat sheet and through recognition from the Pac-12. White, who averaged 8.9 points per game during the regular season, was recently named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, while sophomore guard Kobe Johnson was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team and sophomore guard Reese Dixon-Waters was named the Pac-12 Sixth Player of the Year.

Sophomore guard Reese Dixon-Waters was named the 2023 Pac-12 Sixth-Player of the Year. The Long Beach native averaged 9.6 points-per-game, almost doubling his average from last season, 4.8. (Cassandra Yra | Daily Trojan)

“I think everyone’s stepped up,” said fifth year guard Drew Peterson in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “I think the awards across the board for our team prove that.”

USC will continue to rely on Peterson, who leads the team in rebounds and assists per game, and senior guard Boogie Ellis, who leads the team in points per game. But the two veteran guards have rarely put up high point totals simultaneously. Over USC’s last 10 games, Ellis and Peterson have only scored over 11 points each in the same game four times.

The Trojans have still managed a 7-3 record in those games, but all three of the losses came when only one or neither of the veteran guards reached the 12 point threshold. Peterson, who said he’ll play on Thursday, is still not 100% back from the back injury that almost kept him out of the ASU game. That means USC will need one of their role players to step up during the Pac-12 tournament if they want to advance and become champions.

“We need that third and fourth scorer if we’re going to do something in the postseason,” Enfield said.

Despite all of the question marks of who that third or fourth scorer will be for USC, confidence is still high in the locker room.

“Sky high. I’ve been saying this since the beginning of the year: I feel like we’ve never really lost a game,” White said. “We’ve always shot ourselves in the foot … We’ve been coming together at the perfect time. Keeping that confidence with our resume, I feel like we’re going to do some big things.”

That confidence extends beyond just the Pac-12 tournament.

“We’re playing our best basketball of the year right now,” Peterson said. “We’re really confident and we’ve got good momentum going into the tourney and we’re looking to take care of business there and set us up for potential seeding.”

The Trojans found out they would be playing the Sun Devils fewer than 24 hours before tipoff. But they have high hopes as they match up against conference foes for likely the last time this season.