December 29, 2017 by Sam Dodge
LOS ANGELES – The road seemed so smooth.
With a manageable early conference slate prior to the Jan. 18 Oregon tilt, USC’s first step against Washington Friday night was more treacherous than expected.
Despite junior forward Chimezie Metu’s 26 points, bringing him past 1,000 career points, Washington pulled away from USC 88-81 at Galen Center.
The loss snaps USC’s four-game winning streak in the series.
Metu and Bennie Boatwright combined for 50 points, but failed to compensate for an otherwise cold team-shooting night. USC shot under 30 percent outside of the duo, including a paltry 17 percent from deep.
Metu, the Lawndale, Calif. transplant from Nigeria, efficiently shot 10 of 13 from the field and collected 10 rebounds for the double-double.
The game, overshadowed by the football team’s lackluster Cotton Bowl loss to Ohio State, added to the night’s pain for the USC fan base.
Washington, despite seven first-half turnovers, erupted offensively by shooting 67 percent before the break.
“We played soft,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “Just terrible. Zone was bad. Man to man was even worse.”
A typically mediocre three-point team hit half of their deep heaves, as little-used junior forward Dominic Green hit four of his five attempts for 16 points in the game.
USC returned to the typical defensive woes this year, ceding an appalling 1.3 points a possession on an array of Husky drives into the 2-3 zone.
While Metu, Boatwright and sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic all clear 6’10, guard Jaylen Nowell and 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Noah Dickerson plowed their way through the tall, but friendly, forest.
“Chimezie is a fantastic offensive player,” Enfield said, “but the game isn’t just about defense. I’m disappointed in his defense.
“I also thought Jordan McLaughlin played his worst game of the year. Made it easy for them to get into the lane.”
Nowell finished with 14 points on 8 of 12 shooting and added six assists. Dickerson and sophomore forward Sam Timmins took advantage to the tune of 17 and 10 points, respectively.
USC came into the night fresh off a Diamond Head Classic title in Hawaii, dispatching strong mid-majors in Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State.
The momentum didn’t last, as Washington more resembled the team that shocked Kansas in Lawrence than the one that struggled to beat Montana last week.
The Trojans fall to 9-5 on the year and 0-1 in conference. Washington gets win No. 11 in head coach Mike Hopkins first year.
Washington went 9-22 last year.
USC is running out of time to fulfill on the great promise of the beginning of the year. While they entered the year with a top-10 ranking nationally, injuries and off-court distractions are piling up.
Reinforcements may be coming from over the hill.
Sources close to the program intimated that former five-star guard Derryck Thornton is close to returning from his shoulder injury.
“Derryck is a terrific defender,” Enfield said. “We certainly want him back soon. At the very least next week.”
Additionally, there’s continued hope that USC and the NCAA will exonerate sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton before the end of the regular season.
Both are needed to lift the defensive weight off Jordan McLaughlin’s shoulders. While the senior guard is still dealing at the point, complementing his eight points with eight assists, he essentially the only point guard that plays.
Melton, last year’s conference leader in steals, is sorely needed to avoid meltdowns such as tonight’s.
“We’re not worried about today,” Boatwright said. “We going to play pissed off going forward.”
USC looks to get off the mat Sunday night against Ernie Kent’s Washington State Cougars. Tip-off is at 6:00 PST.