December 3, 2016 by Max Meyer
By Max Meyer
The Trojans are one of the 12 remaining undefeated teams left in college basketball.
Yes, you read that right: USC, after a 91-84 win over BYU Saturday at Staples Center to move to 8-0, is one of a dozen teams left in the country with a zero in the loss column.
Jordan McLaughlin was named the MVP in this Hoophall LA contest, finishing with a team-high 24 points, 18 of which came in the second half. Shaqquan Aaron had 19 points, including four threes, and Elijah Stewart added another 16.
Here are some notes from the game, including the biggest reason behind the team’s first 8-0 start since the 2000-01 season.
One Thing I Liked: The Defense, Especially on the Perimeter
In a game that featured 175 combined points, it’d be weird to credit USC’s defense for this victory at first glance. And to be fair, BYU shot 43.5 percent from the floor, the highest mark the Trojans have surrendered this season.
USC, however, forced 16 BYU turnovers, including swiping the ball 11 times. The Cougars only compiled nine assists on the game, as the Trojans were able to slow down BYU’s ball movement along the perimeter.
“We’re a better team now than we were last year I think because of our defense,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re able to defend, we had 11 steals tonight. I think our defense is longer and more athletic this year with the freshmen and the returnees.
“This team is very unique in the fact that we can play big or small and still defend. Sometimes we have to go to our zone, which we did tonight, but credit to these players, they’re good players.”
BYU big man Eric Mika torched the Trojans in the paint, scoring 29 points and forcing two USC big men to foul out. A big key to USC’s success this season, though, has been the perimeter defense.
Coming into this game, USC held opponents to 28.9 percent (46-159) shooting from beyond the arc, the 33rd-best mark in the country. BYU made only five of its 23 attempts from three-point land, further dropping that season percentage to 28.0 percent. To compare, opponents shot 32.5 percent from three last season against the Trojans.
“It’s our scouting report,” McLaughlin said regarding the team’s success defending long-distance shots. “We study teams and what they like to do, and a lot of the teams we’ve played this year, they like to shoot the three ball. In practice, we prepare for that. We focus on drills the week leading up to games, so it’s a credit to the coaching staff.”
Two Pac-12 teams are among the country’s elite in shooting threes, UCLA at 45.4 percent (second in all of college basketball) and Washington at 42.4 percent (seventh). Continuing their strong defense along the perimeter will probably end up being a key factor in how successful the Trojans are in conference play.
1. With Bennie Boatwright injured, the Trojans needed their players to step up in his absence. While USC’s offense simply isn’t as lethal with two true big men on the floor compared to having a stretch four (which happened tonight), the team still shot 9-of-21 from beyond the arc.
Aaron, the Louisville transfer, hit four of those threes, and finished with a career-high 19 points. He’s had an up-and-down start, expected for a guy who sat out an entire season, but played his best game with the Trojans against BYU.
“When a man’s down, everybody has to step up,” Aaron said. “[Bennie’s] one of our great players. When he got down last game, it felt like I had to step up.”
2. USC had another slow start, missing 16 of its first 17 shots. The Trojans went on to make 59.2 percent of their attempts the rest of the game, including 55.6 percent overall in the second half.
3. McLaughlin definitely deserved the MVP award. The junior point guard was spectacular on Sunday, and has really developed nicely into a strong all-around floor general.
“I just go with the flow of the game,” McLaughlin said. “If I’m open, I have the confidence now to knock down shots.”
After hitting eight of his 12 shots from the floor, he’s now 34-of-65 on the season, making more than half of his attempts. McLaughlin is the focal point of this offense, and his efficiency may be his strongest attribute.
4. Freshman De’Anthony Melton continues to make plays. He hit the biggest shot of the game, a three when BYU cut USC’s lead to five with a little over a minute remaining. Melton finished with 12 points, eight board, six assists, two steals and a block.
5. USC’s next game is against Pepperdine at 7 PM PT on December 11 (more than a week off!) at the Galen Center.