December 11, 2016 by Max Meyer
By Max Meyer
The Trojans didn’t have to navigate through tough waters Sunday night against the Waves.
USC defeated Pepperdine 93-67 at Galen Center, moving to 9-0 on the season. The Trojans are one of the seven remaining undefeated squads in the country, and have their best start since 1970-71.
Elijah Stewart led the way with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including a career-high seven threes. Jordan McLaughlin added 18, making all seven of his shots from the field to go with six assists versus only one turnover.
The team had its best shooting night from beyond the arc this season, draining 12 of 23 three-point attempts. While USC hasn’t had the same shooting success as last season, there is one big reason why the offense hasn’t dropped off.
One Thing I Liked: Limiting Turnovers on Offense
USC’s strong shooting from beyond the arc last season (38.7 percent, 20th in the country) was a major reason behind the team’s rise as one of the most potent offenses in the Pac-12.
While this year’s Trojans have not shot the three nearly as well coming into Sunday (34.7 percent, 165th in college basketball), the offense’s efficiency is comparable to last season’s squad.
Why? They have really limited their turnovers on that side of the ball.
USC had turned the ball over on only 15.5 percent of their possessions before facing Pepperdine, which was the 18th-best rate in all of college basketball. The lack of turnovers has allowed USC to have more chances for shots. And with more opportunities, that has helped negate the shooting struggles.
“Last year we did a lot of drive-in penetration and sometimes the guards just didn’t know when to pick it up and throw it out,” Stewart said. “This year, we do a lot of drive-in penetrating and everyone can shoot threes now. We just space it out and there’s always someone open. Basically, the court’s more spaced than last year.”
The Trojans had nine turnovers on Sunday (including just three in the first half). This was the first time we’ve gotten a glimpse of how scary this offense can be with a low turnover rate and sharp shooting. The team shot a season-best 56.6 percent from the floor and 52.2 percent from three-point land.
Factoring in the 18 assists on Sunday as well, USC’s assist-to-turnover ratio now stands at 1.37:1, an improvement from last season’s 1.21:1 ratio and second in the Pac-12 behind UCLA’s 1.94:1. That ratio is at a very high 1.73:1 over the past four games, a number that has reflected how the Trojans have gelled as an offense as the season has progressed.
“Last year, we were a little chaotic at times in the halfcourt,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We overdribbled at times and left our feet a lot. Our players are getting better at that, some of the weaknesses we had last year, they’re improving.”
1. USC set a new single-game school record with 14 blocks against Pepperdine. Stewart had four rejections, while freshmen De’Anthony Melton and Nick Rakocevic contributed three apiece.
“All of our guards and bigs are athletic,” Stewart said regarding the blocks. “It helps when you can jump out of the gym.”
2. The four blocks and 26 points listed earlier are just two stats that have highlighted Stewart’s improvement this season. The junior guard has developed nicely into a top option on offense, while continuing his impressive defense that he showcased as a freshman.
“Elijah has been outstanding all year,” Enfield said. He has added a lot to his game. He is becoming a more complete basketball player. We challenged him to do that and so far he is doing a nice job.”
If he keeps up this play, Stewart will be deserving of All-Pac-12 honors at the end of this campaign.
3. If you tune into SportsCenter tonight or tomorrow morning, you will see this Chimezie Metu thunderous put-back slam.
“I wish I could have done that when I played,” Enfield said. “That was spectacular. You just shake your head and smile.”
4. This was Rakocevic’s best game of the season, putting up a career-high in points (13) and rebounds (9). He also shot an impressive 9-of-10 from the charity stripe, after coming into Sunday with just a 52.2 percentage on free-throw attempts.
“I work on my free throws every day in practice,” Rakocevic said. “I’m becoming more consistent. My teammates did a good job finding me tonight, that’s why I shot so many free throws.”
5. USC’s next game is against Troy (Trojans vs. Trojans!) at Galen Center on Saturday, December 17 at 7:30 PM PT.