Unbeaten USC basketball still looking for its spotlight dance – Daily Bulletin

As soon as people started wondering whether they should go see these seventh-ranked Trojans play basketball, they couldn’t.

As soon as USC was ready to accept the laurels and hearty handshakes for its run to the regional finals of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the world rushed by to watch UCLA in the Final Four the following week.

As soon as they got all the celebrating students off the Galen Center court on the night Jonah Matthews hit the 3-point shot with one second left that sunk UCLA, all you heard was the crash of the rest of the 2020 season.

Such is life. The Trojans have played gleaming basketball, especially over the past two seasons and two months, but they’re never the bright shiny object.

You can win a few bar bets by asking how many USC players are in today’s NBA. The correct answer is 10, seven of whom were recruited by Coach Andy Enfield, in the midst of his ninth season.

These particular Trojans are 12-0. They held San Diego State to 32.1 percent shooting and won by 15. They’re holding their opponents to 60 points per game. Even without Evan Mobley, the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft and a Rookie of the Year possibility for the Cleveland Cavaliers, they play the same hassling defense. They might be deeper and more versatile offensively.

But, at the moment, they aren’t scheduled to play at home again until Jan. 13, when Oregon State visits. Given health and luck, the Trojans will play UCLA at Galen on Feb. 12 and at Pauley Pavilion on March 5. Those promise to be the most special rivalry nights since O.J. Mayo and Taj Gibson took on Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison 14 seasons ago.

If the Trojans hold UCLA to one point fewer than the football team did (62), they’ll have a good shot.

But if you want to go double-or-nothing on that bar bet, USC has a four-game win streak over UCLA and hasn’t lost to the Bruins in regulation since 2018.

“When you lose Evan and Tahj (Eaddy), there’s an adjustment to go through, but the advantage we had was big-game experience,” Enfield said. “Our guys are accustomed to winning. We brought in (transfer) Boogie Ellis and four talented freshmen, and we already had a foundation. We had the toughness on the defensive end. It’s been fun to see us develop.”

USC has generally had better players than teams over the years. There’s no telling how far Harold Miner’s 1992 team could have gone, if not for James Forrest’s prayer shot for Georgia Tech in the second round of the NCAAs. No such players were around when Enfield showed up, from Florida Gulf Coast.

He had earned attention for two NCAA Tournament upsets and a high pace that created dunks, which in turn created ESPN highlights, which in turn caught the eye of USC athletic director Pat Haden.

Enfield turned out to be far more traditional than people thought. He took lumps for two years while he was planting recruiting seeds. The 2015 team got to the NCAAs with Jordan McLaughlin, Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright, and in 2016 the Trojans won two tournament games.

“That group had faith in what we were trying to do,” Enfield said. “Those guys will always be a big part of this.”

Except for a backward step in 2019 and an NCAA snub in 2018, this has been the longest stretch of sunshine for USC hoops since at least the mid-70s. Among “power conference” teams, only Baylor and Kansas have won more games over the past two seasons than USC.

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