December 31, 2017 by Sam Dodge
LOS ANGELES – Ten minutes after USC’s lethargic 88-81 loss to Washington on Friday night, there was no sign of Andy Enfield at the podium.
Ten minutes turned to twenty, which turned to forty.
Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, in town for the Rose Bowl and checking in on USC basketball, asked if Enfield normally took that long.
Considering the disappointment of the loss, maybe he just needed extra words with his team, pleading to reverse the negative inertia of a once-promising season gone awry.
The first redemption attempt starts Sunday night against visiting Washington State, fresh off a defensive collapse of their own in a 96-82 road loss to UCLA.
Head coach Ernie Kent’s Cougars, despite shooting 58 percent from the field in Westwood, failed to keep up with Bruins due to a woeful 1.32 points per possession allowed.
The Trojans know the feeling, ceding 1.24 points per trip to Huskies.
“We played soft,” Enfield said Friday night. “Just terrible. Zone was bad. Man to man was even worse.”
He stressed disappointment in star forwards Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright, despite terrific offensive performances.
“The game isn’t just about defense,” he said. “They need to spend less time in the gym shooting and more time on the other side of the court.”
Metu and Boatwright combined for 50 points, and Metu crossed the 1,000-point threshold.
After the 67 percent shooting night from the Huskies, USC may be facing a similar struggle with the Cougars.
Led by forwards Robert Franks and Carter Skaggs, Washington State efficiently hits nearly 40 percent of their threes and 52 percent of their twos. Overall, they rank in the top 10 percent in the country in effective field goal percentage.
The 6-foot-7 Franks acts as a stretch four, running to the perimeter to hit 42 percent of his threes. If resorting to man to man, Boatwright likely draws the matchup.
Skaggs, a sophomore gunner from Logansport, Ind., hits 53 percent of his threes and is fresh off a five of eight showing from deep against UCLA.
Sophomore Malachi Flynn plays point, and acts as a pass-or-chuck type. He averages over four assists a game, takes up a quarter of the Cougars’ shots, and shoots twice as many from deep than from two.
He averages 15.2 points a game alongside Franks’ 18.2 per contest.
Guard Viont’e Daniels and center Jeff Pollard round out the lineup and act as glue guys, facilitating Franks, Flynn and Skaggs while each averaging single-digit points.
The game figures to be a track meet, as both teams rank highly in offensive tempo. Enfield emphasized the need for senior point guard Jordan McLaughlin to improve.
“I thought Jordan played his worst game of the year (against Washington). He made it easy for them to get into the lane.”
While he dished out eight assists to remain in the nation’s top-five in that category, his tired defense allowed Husky guard Jaylen Nowell to bully his way into the paint for 14 points.
He also managed only eight points, inefficiently shooting only 3 of 10.
It’s possible he gets less work tonight, as Enfield stated former five-star guard Derryck Thornton may return from a month-long shoulder injury.
Since the injury, McLaughlin has played nearly all the minutes at the point, so less usage may help.
“Derryck is a terrific defender,” Enfield said. “We certainly want him back soon.”
Additionally, Washington State lost the UCLA game due to the whistle, fouling enough to allow the Bruins a 26 of 33 night at the stripe.
The Cougars typically limit opportunities there, ranking No. 30 nationally in free throws allowed.
USC stayed close with Washington with an 18 of 21 free throw night, so they may need a similar effort to hold back the potential shooting barrage.
USC has failed to beat any Power-Five conference team since the road win at 5-8 Vanderbilt, Nov. 19. On the other side, the Cougars beat highly-regarded mid-major Saint Mary’s, but laid eggs at home against UC Davis (81-67) and away at Idaho (91-64).
With Washington in the rear-view mirror, USC absolutely needs positive momentum going into the Bay Area road swing next week.
If Washington State is too much to handle, the Trojans may not be only out of the NCAA Tournament…
They may barely sniff the NIT.