January 9, 2016 by Jacob Freedman
Is USC a basketball school? It surely seemed like it on Saturday night, when a raucous Galen Center crowd saw USC (14-3, 3-1 in Pac-12) knock off No. 7 Arizona (13-3, 1-2) 103-101 in a quadruple overtime thriller. It was only fitting that Elijah Stewart, who led all scorers with 27 points, had the game-winning points in a pair of free throws he sunk with 23 seconds left. After a wild back-and-forth for Arizona on the ensuing possession, the Wildcats’ Kadeem Allen saw his three-point attempt clank iron to seal the win.
The Prophet, Elijah
The sophomore guard had likely his best game of the season, shooting 5-of-8 on three-point shots and 9-of-13 overall for 27 points. It was slightly reminiscent of Stewart’s 27 points in USC’s comeback win over Arizona State in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament. In the final overtime, Stewart drove to the basket and banked a wild layup to give USC a 101-99 lead with 2:03 left, then was similarly aggressive in what ended up being the game-winning points. Stewart has control when he drives to the basket, and is growing adept at drawing fouls like he did in the closing seconds. Consistency is still an issue, but Stewart gave USC the first-half spark to battle to a halftime lead, then lifted them when it mattered most.
Not How They Drew It Up
USC had the final possession with a chance to win in the first three overtimes. In the first two, Jacobs’ turned it over in wild fashion. The second overtime saw Jacobs tossing the ball recklessly, an untimely end to a possession that saw USC with 20 seconds to draw up a possible winner. In the third overtime, Jordan McLaughlin got his chance to seal it but found himself tightly guarded before heaving up a jumper that clanked off iron. The Trojans’ defense won it in the fourth overtime after Stewart’s free throws, but chances are Andy Enfield might be devoting a couple extra minutes in practice this week for end-game execution.
Nikola’s Block Party
Nikola Jovanovic’s defensive aggressiveness, as the 6-foot-10 forward had four blocks for the second game in a row against a formidable Arizona front line. Jovanovic also hit a pair of clutch free throws in the final overtime to go with a goaltending bucket that put USC up 95-93 in the third overtime before Arizona tied it.
What This Means
Could the Trojans be ranked when they head to Westwood on Wednesday? The Arizona win is slightly muddled by the fact that the Wildcats lost two days earlier to UCLA, but the Trojans have the best record in the Pac-12 and a primetime win that will earn the notice of the college basketball world. The loss to Washington still stings, but the Trojans proved Saturday that they can compete with any team in the Pac-12 on any given night.
The Trojans will need to rebound quickly from playing 60 minutes, but a victory over UCLA can really put this team on the nap. The Trojans are in tournament conversation as of tonight, but will need to beat the lower-end Pac-12 teams and pull off a couple of impressive road wins. Wednesday night would be a perfect example of the latter.