January 25, 2017 by Max Meyer
By Max Meyer
USC has certainly had its ups and downs since Andy Enfield was hired. But make no mistake, Wednesday night’s 84-76 win over No. 8 UCLA at Galen Center was the biggest statement win in the Enfield era.
Behind a raucous atmosphere, the Trojans outhustled and outplayed their crosstown rivals. In fact, it’s felt like a common theme here in Los Angeles. USC has a four-game winning streak over UCLA, the first time that’s happened since 2009-11. Or in other words, UCLA has not beaten USC in 685 days.
“That was a big win for our team. The players played exceptionally hard. They shared the basketball. They got hands on a lot of balls and we affected the game with our defense,” Enfield said. “The team executed our gameplan exceptionally well. One of that was to force turnovers.”
Shaqquan Aaron scored a game-high (and career-high) 23 points, and hit four three-point shots. The Trojans had 20 assists versus only nine turnovers, led by Jordan McLaughlin’s eight helpers. And USC’s underrated freshman bested UCLA’s hyped freshman, but more on that later.
One Thing I Liked: USC’s Perimeter Defense
USC started off the season defending the arc quite well, but a big reason for their recent defensive struggles is how they’ve fallen off in that aspect.
This was not the case against UCLA.
The most mind-boggling stat was that the Bruins only attempted five three-pointers in the first half. Five!
This is one of the best outside shooting teams in the country, yet UCLA was barely getting any clean looks. Down 50-38 at half, the Bruins chucked more threes in the contest’s final 20 minutes, but finished shooting a paltry 30 percent (6 of 20) from beyond the arc.
Just like Arizona did in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, USC’s defenders hounded UCLA along the perimeter.
“We started off the game man to man, and we’re just undersized without Bennie Boatwright and Charles Buggs,” Enfield said. “So we went to the zone and we said ‘We just have to get to the three-point shooters.’ The point of emphasis was to try and contest every three that they took. I was proud of our players because we were there on the catch.”
Not only was USC limiting UCLA’s effectiveness from outside, the Trojans were greatly disrupting their rivals’ ball movement as well. The Bruins had 18 assists and 17 turnovers. Future lottery pick Lonzo Ball had a career-high seven turnovers and only four assists (he came in averaging 8.2 dimes per game).
“When we went into a zone, we were able to get stops,” Shaqquan Aaron said. “We had to stop them from pushing the ball and getting threes off.”
On the other side of the ball, USC constantly was getting good looks from the perimeter. After a sluggish start in which the Trojans didn’t score a single point in the first 2:53, they took advantage of the holes in UCLA’s defense. USC made 14 of its 34 three-point attempts (41.2 percent).
“In the first couple minutes, we were rushed and took bad shots,” Chimezie Metu said. “We knew we could get any shot we wanted.”
The difference in the two teams’ perimeter defenses was the biggest factor behind USC’s victory.
1. Ball is deservedly touted as a potential top-5 pick. But certainly didn’t play like it. He wasn’t even the best freshman on the floor Wednesday night.
That distinction belonged to De’Anthony Melton.
USC’s stat-stuffer supreme had 13 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. He was everywhere on the court, and he was just consistently making plays.
2. UCLA is a strong transition team, but the Bruins only had six fast-break points. USC led them in that metric as well, posting nine.
3. Former USC player and coach Bob Boyd had his No. 19 jersey retired at a halftime ceremony on Wednesday night.
4. The Trojans’ biggest deficit against UCLA was 20-10 in the first half, which marked the ninth time this season that USC has come back down from nine points or more.
5. USC’s next game is on Wednesday, February 1 at Washington at 8 PM PT, and it will be televised on on ESPNU.