January 7, 2018 by Sam Dodge
The Tree got increasingly more excited by the end. (Sam Dodge)
PALO ALTO, CALIF. – USC swore it was all business this past week in Northern California.
They didn’t go to Alcatraz, like Enfield joked after the Washington State win. They simply practiced in Oakland at O.co Arena.
Yet, just as conference favorites Arizona and Arizona State, as well as UCLA, fell to lesser teams on the road, Andy Enfield’s Trojans failed to sweep the Bay Area.
Stanford guard Daejon Davis drained a half-court heave to clinch a 77-76 victory Sunday night at Maples Pavilion.
The 50-foot buzzer-beater capped a wild finish, as USC made a critical stop with nine seconds remaining, and Jordan McLaughlin went coast to cost for a layup for a 76-74 lead.
Beyond the final shot, USC blew a 15-point lead with 10:40 left to fall to 11-6 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play.
“I’ve never lost like that,” Enfield said.
“We knew they were dangerous,” McLaughlin said in disbelief, “but we just didn’t limit them enough. We had our moments, but we didn’t do enough at the end.”
Stanford completed its own sweep of the Los Angeles schools, as it triumphed over UCLA in a 107-99 thriller in two overtimes on Thursday.
After holding opponents under 40 percent in the last two games, USC ceded 49 percent and 1.11 points a possession on the back of a career-night for Reid Travis.
The 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior forward racked up 29 points on 14 shots, and was unstoppable in the final 10 minutes.
“Reid’s a big, strong man,” Enfield said. “He did a good job using his body tonight.”
He finished with a double-double by adding 10 rebounds.
Nik Rakocevic remains the only consistent backcourt defender, as he stabilized the interior defense for the second straight game.
He was on the floor for every double-digit lead the Trojans built.
“He really elevates our effort on that end,” Enfield said. “Nik is our most physical defender, and it was tough for him to get four fouls at the end.”
He complemented leading scorer Chimezie Metu’s 20 points with 17 of his own.
Stanford raced to a 7-0 lead on the back of forward Michael Humphrey’s three and dunk.
After taking the initial punch, USC’s top-20 offense went to work. Behind 58 percent shooting from behind the arc, they totaled 1.34 points a possession in the opening frame.
They cooled off in the end, manufacturing only .86 points per possession in the final 20 minutes.
McLaughlin, who’s No. 5 in the country in assists, finally found his stroke, connecting on three of six 3-pointers. He finished with 16 points on 12 shots.
Bennie Boatwright chipped in three more treys, but missed several bunnies. He arrived at 13 on only five of 12 shooting.
McLaughlin also ended the first half with a last-second layup, beating the horn to pull USC ahead 47-36. (:55 second mark)
Stanford similarly opened the second half with a quick 7-2 run, with all the points coming in the paint.
USC built the lead up to the aforementioned 15 once Rakocevic entered at with 17 minutes to go.
His two fouls in the final seven minutes sent him to the bench, and Travis thrived inside.
“We just didn’t take care of business,” McLaughlin said. “Nik was walling up, affecting shots. We needed to finish it without him in there.”
Stanford scored 42 points in the paint, and while USC bested that with 46 of their own, the blame for tonight again falls on the interior defense of Metu and Boatwright.
While many of the complaints so far this year center around the absence of De’Anthony Melton, the guards held their end of the bargain.
Minus the final, ridiculous heave.
Dorian Pickens, the hero of the UCLA upset, mustered only two points. Davis scraped by with just six before his late-game heroics.
Simply put, McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Derryck Thornton and Jordan Usher more than make up for that absence.
This makes the prospects for the rest of the year slimmer and slimmer, as even if Melton angelically floats down from on high to emerge from his ineligibility, what’s the confidence that it all comes together defensively for Melton and Boatwright?
With that idea in mind, USC adds another crippling loss to the tournament resume.
Stanford joins Princeton as losses outside the top-100 in RPI. Technically, RPI sees the Cardinal as an even worse failure, as they rank No. 179 to Princeton’s No. 131.
This week takes on vital importance, as Colorado and Utah suddenly seem like two toss-ups. The Buffaloes knocked off both ranked Arizona schools this week, and Utah battled to the bitter end, as well.
As painful as it is to say, if USC can’t beat Stanford, what’s the hope it ever meets its pre-season expectations?
The horn is about to sound on their dreams.