January 13, 2016 by Max Meyer
By Max Meyer
Andy Enfield’s team finally got over the hump.
After losing against Steve Alford’s Bruins by double-digits in the first five meetings, USC pulled off an 89-75 win over UCLA Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion. The Trojans moved to 15-3 on the season, including 4-1 in Pac-12 play.
Despite a win that places the program firmly in the national spotlight for this season, Enfield downplayed the significance of USC beating its chief rival.
“It’s a nice win because it’s an away game against a very good basketball team, and it’s hard to win here,” Enfield said. “But we’re more focused on the big picture. And we’re excited to be able to compete in the Pac-12 this year. We’re going to enjoy this win, but at the same time, we have 13 games left.”
There’s still plenty of the season remaining, but it’s hard not to get excited about the most impressive two-game stretch for USC athletics in a long time.
One Thing I Liked: USC’s Second-Half Performance
One of the more impressive stats for USC this season is the fact that it has held at least a 10-point lead in all five conference games.
But this team has had problems defending those leads.
USC racked up an 18-point halftime lead, but UCLA cut it to 10 within the first six minutes of the second half. After a timeout, a thunderous Julian Jacobs slam set a tone that stuck with the team for the remainder of the game: that USC would have an answer every time to a UCLA run.
“[Stronger second halves] is something we’ve really preached,” Jacobs said. “When teams go on runs, we’ve tended to fold in the past. Coaches did a really good job at halftime, saying the score is 0-0 once you came back out. That it’s two different games, two different halves. We just stuck with the game plan.”
The closest UCLA got in the second half was nine points with just over five minutes remaining. But after a Bryce Alford missed three, Jordan McLaughlin silenced the crowd at Pauley with a three of his own, his third three-point shot in the second half. McLaughlin’s 15 second-half points helped on the offensive end, but it was prior experiences this season that ultimately helped USC comfortably hang on.
“We grow every single game,” Katin Reinhardt said. “We grew from the Washington game. We grew from the Arizona game. When we’re up in the second half, we get too lackadaisical at times. We just locked in defensively, and we just took care of business.”
Another Thing I Liked: Katin Reinhardt’s defense on Bryce Alford
UCLA’s star point guard has killed USC in the past with his perimeter shooting. Reinhardt, who would often guard the opponent’s best player last season, asked for his biggest challenge this season.
“I actually asked [assistant coach] Tony Bland to guard him all week,” Reinhardt said. “I knew that would I could do would affect him. I asked him for it, and later in the week, he told me I was going to guard him.”
The result? Alford had one of his worst games this season, scoring nine points on 4-13 shooting from the floor. He couldn’t get it going from beyond the arc either, making just one of his six attempts from three-point land.
Alford had been a key factor vs. USC and Enfield in the past, scoring at least 20 points in three of his previous five games against the Trojans.
“Katin has good size and strength,” Enfield said. “He was able to make it tough [on Bryce]. Bryce Alford is a terrific basketball player, so explosive offensively. Our game plan was to make it as tough as possible, and Katin did his best to make that happen.”
UCLA overall shot 4-19 on three-point shots, and at some points looked uncomfortable in half-court sets. And Reinhardt’s shutdown defense was the primary reason why.
“I just locked in mentally on him and just played hard on him,” Reinhardt stated. “I had to play good defense, and force other people to make plays.”
1. Tonight was Chimezie Metu’s coming-out party. The true freshman scored a career-high 21 points, including 14 in the first half. He made big plays on both ends of the floor, and came up big with Nikola Jovanovic in foul trouble for a good amount of the game.
“He played outstanding basketball on both ends of the floor,” Enfield remarked on Metu. “He’s really learned the college game. He’s improved every week.”
2. USC was No. 26 in the AP poll this week. After beating UCLA in Westwood, it’s extremely likely USC will be ranked for the first time since November 17, 2008.
3. The Trojans now will get a well-deserved break. The next game they will play is next Thursday at Oregon at 6 p.m. PST.