USC Finishes Regular Season on High Note With Strong Defense

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March 4, 2017 by Max Meyer

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By Max Meyer

USC’s regular season ended on a high note, as the Trojans defeated Washington 74-58 at Galen Center to close out the campaign with a 23-8 record.

“It’s been a very challenging, but very rewarded regular season for us,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Our team has excelled with 23 wins. I don’t think anyone predicted this.”

The 16-point difference on Saturday, however was a bit misleading, as USC was sluggish throughout most of the entire affair.

The Huskies raced out to an early 10-point lead in the first half, and kept it competitive despite not having star guard and future top-5 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz.

But the Trojans built up a comfortable lead at the end of the game, thanks in large part to their performance on one side of the ball.

One Thing I Liked: USC’s Defense

USC shot a remarkable (and season-best) 58.7 percent from the floor, yet it was the defense that led the way in the closing stretch. Washington cut the score to 57-51 with 9:13 left after a Noah Dickerson jumper, who had a game-high and career-high 27 points.

The Huskies then scored just seven points in the final 9 minutes. One of the two field goals in that stretch was a meaningless layup with 18 seconds remaining.

“We stepped our defense up,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “When you hold a team to 58 points in the Pac-12, you’ve obviously done something right defensively.”

The Trojans came into this game second in the Pac-12 in blocks per game (4.8) and third in steals (6.6). They eclipsed both of those averages in their regular-season finale, accumulating nine blocks and 11 steals.

Chimezie Metu had three rejections, while Bennie Boatwright and Elijah Stewart each had two. Jordan McLaughlin led the team with four swipes, with De’Anthony Melton adding three himself. It was a balanced defensive effort, and a very encouraging performance overall just a few days away from the Pac-12 tournament.

Quick Hits:

1. Saturday was USC’s senior day, and one of them provided the loudest cheers from the Galen Center faithful.

Walk-on Sam Dhillon drilled a corner three with 29 seconds left, giving USC its largest lead of the game at 18 (apologies to the poor souls who took Washington +15.5). Those were Dhillon’s first points of the season.

“That baseline jumper’s my shot pretty much. So when I got the ball, I was like ‘You know what? This is going in. No questions asked,'” Dhillon said. “All four years were worth it in that one moment.”

“Sam’s been practicing that shot for four years now,” Enfield smirked. “I’m just glad there was not a hand in his face. What a great shot.”

2. Following up a near triple-double performance Wednesday against Washington State, McLaughlin led the Trojans with 22 points and nine assists.

It was the USC point guard’s first 20-point game since January 8 against Cal, and his second in Pac-12 play this season.

“I played well,” McLaughlin said. “A couple turnovers that were my fault, but I play well when being aggressive, getting my teammates involved and scoring when I can.”

3. Boatwright’s streak of 33 consecutive made free throws came to an end in the second half. The school record is Galen Central contributor David Bluthenthal’s 41 in a row, a streak that lasted during the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

4. Freshman guard Jonah Mathews did not play due to concussion-like symptoms.

5. USC is the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, and will play Washington again Wednesday in the first round at 8:30 PM PT.

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