Riding Daniel Utomi’s season-high 23-point performance, USC beat Washington State 70-51 Saturday night for its eighth win in Pac-12 competition. The Trojans had just eight scholarship players available, as Onyeka Okongwu (concussion) and Kyle Sturdivant (personal) didn’t suit up.
“It was won at the defensive end,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “The offense was a little streaky at times but we turned it on when we needed to.”
After falling behind 8-0 within the game’s first two minutes, a strong defensive performance helped USC storm back and maintain a double-digit advantage throughout the second half. Washington State shot just 28.6 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from 3-point range. USC forced 11 turnovers, collected 45 total rebounds and shot 45.2 percent from the field.
“I think our goal is to challenge every 3,” Enfield said. “I thought our shot challenging tonight was outstanding. They got very few open looks. A couple, but not a ton.”
USC opened the second half on a 7-2 run, capped off by a Utomi 3. An Anderson 3 put the Trojans up 20, but Washington State cut USC’s lead in half with 9:36 left. USC’s Jonah Mathews forced a turnover and Elijah Weaver made an extra pass at the other end to Utomi in the right corner, who nailed a 3 to put USC ahead 50-36. Utomi hit another 3 on his next touch and the Trojans never looked back.
Utomi shot 8-of-15 from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
“[Utomi’s] a tough matchup because he’s so efficient offensively,” Enfield said. Utomi added, “My whole life, I’ve always been able to shoot the ball. If I just shoot the ball, shoot well, it does a lot for a lot of people.”
Isaiah Mobley finished with nine points and 11 rebounds. USC freshman guard Ethan Anderson returned to the Trojans’ starting lineup after leaving the Trojans’ last game against Washington early with a left knee contusion, contributing 12 points in 27 minutes.
Washington State’s CJ Elleby scored a team-high 22 points and grabbed 13 boards.
“We just try to make it tough for [Elleby],” Enfield said. “He made some really tough shots in isolation situations tonight where he steps back, he’s 6-foot-6, he has that high release. It’s hard to guard.”
USC ended the first half with two strong defensive stops. Nick Rakocevic blocked a shot after USC held Washington State for 19 seconds. Mobley followed by forcing an airball, as USC entered halftime with a 30-21 advantage. The Trojans kept Washington State under 27 percent shooting and forced seven turnovers.
Elleby scored five consecutive points to keep the Cougars in front by three with nearly 10 minutes remaining in the first period. With the score tied at 17, Mobley skied up for a rebound and lost his balance on the way down to the floor, twisting his ankle.
“It hurt right away,” Mobley said.
He hopped off the floor on one leg and immediately headed back to the USC locker room, returning to the USC bench under his own power with just under five minutes left in the first period. Mobley checked back into the game shortly after.
“We thought [the injury] was a little worse,” Enfield said. “He’s going to be very sore tomorrow. With a couple days of therapy and icing, hopefully he should be ready for next week.”
Former USC standouts Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright, De’Anthony Melton and Elijah Stewart sat courtside.
“They’re just terrific young men first of all,” Enfield said. “But they meant so much to our program here. To have that many in the NBA, we’ll have some here coming up in the next couple years as well.”
McLaughlin recently posted a double-double in his first career NBA game for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He graduated from USC as just the third Pac-12 player ever to post over 1,600 points and 600 assists. Boatwright, who earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors as a senior at USC, now plays for the G League’s Memphis Hustle.
Stewart leads USC in 3-pointers made all-time and plays professionally in Finland. Melton became the first freshman to record 300 points, 150 rebounds, 100 assists, 60 steals and 35 blocks in college basketball since Dwyane Wade. A 2018 second round pick of the Houston Rockets, Melton plays for Memphis Grizzlies.
“It means our program has turned and been built where we’re bringing good players in and developing,” Enfield said. “We don’t determine how long they have to stay here, but what we want is to come get a great education while you’re here, be part of a winning program and then go and reach your dreams.”
Next Up For USC
USC travels to Colorado next on Feb. 2o. The Buffaloes are 19-6 overall and 8-4 in Pac-12 play. Colorado’s 12-2 at home.
“We’re a game out of first place [in the Pac-12] and we have a lot of tough games coming up,” Enfield said.
Enfield said Okonwgu’s status is day-to-day. The freshman big man is in concussion protocal and USC is hopeful to have him back by next week. Enfield’s 129 USC victories rank fifth on the program’s all-time list. He needs to reach 133 to pass Henry Bibby, who coached USC to three NCAA tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight birth in 2001.