Fresh off Pac-12 Player of the Week honors, USC senior forward Nick Rakocevic posted 16 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high six assists in the Trojans’ seven-point victory over Pepperdine. He averaged over 25 points and 13 boards in USC’s previous two games, an encouraging sign for the Trojans.
“Nick has great hands and feet and is a very good passer,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “He helps his teammates. When he plays to his strengths, he’s an all-league player.”
The Chicago native didn’t play with the same dominance in USC’s first two games, against inferior competition in Florida A&M and Portland. Rakocevic got into foul trouble early and often in the Trojans’ first two, limiting his time on the floor. And with the addition of 6-foot-11 Chino Hills product Onyeka Okongwu to USC’s roster, Enfield moved him out of his usual position at center and into a new role at the power forward spot.
Rakocevic has grown more comfortable at the four-slot in USC’s last three games and is using his position to his advantage.
“I have to stay low at all times and play with my hands and try to tip balls. I’m not playing on the post anymore, I’m playing on the perimeter, so I can get in the middle of things better.”
After his 27-point, 16-rebound performance against South Dakota State, Rakocevic acknowledged his return to form.
“[Enfield’s] always motivated me just to do things like this and crash the offensive glass,” he said. “He’s my biggest fan when I play to my strengths and do things like this. You see the result, so I just kind of got to stick to what I’m good at doing and hopefully it makes us better as a team.”
When Rakocevic is firing on all cylinders, USC is tough to stop. The Trojans’ win over Pepperdine was a perfect example of that scenario, with Okongwu scoring a career-best 33 points as a compliment to Rakocevic.
“I love playing with Nick,” Okongwu said. “He takes pressure off me and I take it off him.”
The USC bigs’ balanced scoring attack fended off a whopping 38-point showcase from Pepperdine guard Colbey Ross. The likelihood for that kind of performance will spike once the Trojans hit Pac-12 competition in January, so it’s a good sign USC was still able to exit with a victory.
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.