LOS ANGELES– On Wednesday night , the Trojans let one get away against the Washington State Cougars at the Galen Center. Kobe Johnson had an outstanding performance in the previous game, scoring 21 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, delivering 5 assists, and making 5 steals. He became the first Pac-12 player to achieve such a stat line since Chris Duarte of Oregon in 2020, and only the third Pac-12 player since the 1996-97 season to do so.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The Trojans had a difficult first half
Johnson, Ellis, and Collier scored over 20 points each in the game against Stanford. However, they struggled to find their momentum in the first half. The USC team’s strength lies in their defense as they forced nine turnovers in the first half. Unfortunately, they were only able to convert those turnovers into five points. Even though this USC team couldn’t find their rhythm, they allowed the Cougars to take control early on in the game.
In the beginning of the game, USC had a hard time making shots with only a 32.3% field goal percentage, while the Cougars were doing better by shooting 42.9%. The Trojans were also struggling with only a 14.3% three-point shooting percentage, with only Ellis making a three-pointer in the first half. Despite leading his team on the court, Ellis re-aggravated his left hamstring in the middle of the first half after scoring on a fastbreak play. He was checked by the medical staff and seemed okay to return to the game. In 16 minutes of play, Ellis managed to score 7 points, while Isaiah Collier scored 6 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist.
Collier has won the Pac-12 Player of the Week award again, after struggling for a few games. Although turnovers have been an issue for Collier and his team, USC head coach, Andy Enfield, was more concerned about his decision-making skills. However, after Saturday’s win, Enfield expressed his pride in Collier’s progress. He complimented him for securing the ball and making the right plays. Enfield was pleasantly surprised to see Collier call out plays and make adjustments throughout the game. This demonstrates maturity and a better understanding of the game at a higher level, especially since Collier has played 16 games this season.
During the first half of the game, the Cougars played with great determination. Jaylen Wells was particularly impressive, scoring 13 points, grabbing 3 rebounds and making 3 out of 4 shots from beyond the arc. Isaac Jones was also effective, putting up 9 points and 5 rebounds, making 3 out of 7 shots from the field. The Cougars’ interior defense played a crucial role in the game, as they blocked 3 shots and controlled the rebounding game. They allowed only 14 points in the paint and 11 points off the bench for USC.
In the first half, Bronny James did not score any points, he missed both his shots from the field and played for only 8 minutes. On the other hand, Kijani Wright had an impressive performance with 6 points and 2 rebounds, shooting 3 for 3 from the field. Meanwhile, Kobe Johnson scored only 4 points from 2 out of 5 shots from the field, while the Trojans were trailing 29-28 at the end of the first half.
USC couldn’t control the Cougars in the second half
It seemed during warmups that Ellis was going to try to play, even though he may have re-injured his left hamstring. The biggest factor in the game was the absence of Joshua Morgan, who was out sick with no expected return date.
During the second half of the game, the Trojans had a hard time playing zone defense after switching from man to man. Coach Andy Enfield was visibly emotional on the sideline, emphasizing the importance of the game on every timeout. Despite dealing with a hamstring injury, Ellis tried his best to contribute to the team, finishing the game with a shooting 5 of 13 from the field and 3 of 7 from three-point range. Unfortunately, Ellis missed a crucial layup late in the game, which ultimately led to the Trojans’ defeat, ending their two-game winning streak in the new year.
“We tried to put the ball in our best player’s hand, and Boogie missed a layup,” said Enfield after the game.
During the game, Collier was playing well, but he injured his right hand in the second half and had to leave the game. He has a right hand contusion, and there is no information about when he will be able to return to the court. As Collier may not be available for the upcoming away games, it will be difficult for the Trojans to win. On Wednesday night, Collier scored 12 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, and made 1 assist, but the team lost 72-64 at home against Washington State.
This USC team has been struggling with free throw shots, as they missed eight of them during Wednesday night’s game and consequently lost by eight points. Despite being favored by 5.5 points before the game, the Trojans failed to cover at home due to Joshua Morgan’s absence as that was the first thing Enfield said during his postgame press conference. Vincent Iwuchukwu had a tough time against the Cougars and only managed to score one point from the free throw line, struggling on both offense and defense.
Kobe Johnson played for nearly 36 minutes, but unfortunately, he fouled out of the game. He scored 9 points, had 4 assists and 2 steals, but he struggled to be efficient on the court. Johnson missed all four of his three-point attempts and shot only 3 of 10 from the field. There were times when Johnson seemed tired, which caused him to be late on some defensive rotations.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Collier and Ellis, both of whom are currently dealing with injuries, will miss some upcoming practice time.
During the game, the lead kept changing frequently, but towards the end of the second half, the Cougars were able to secure a lead. USC’s DJ Rodman managed to hit a three-point shot that tied the game with 3:09 left, but unfortunately, USC couldn’t maintain that momentum.
Isaac Jones played exceptionally well in the game, scoring 26 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and making 3 assists. Jones had a great night at the free-throw line, making 12 out of 15 shots while playing for 35 minutes. Another standout for the Cougars was Myles Rice, who had a perfect shooting night from the free throw line and scored 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists in their victory over USC.
The Trojans have allowed their opponents to shoot over 50% from the field in the second half for the fourth consecutive game. In the first half, USC allowed 29 points, but then allowed 43 points in the second half. Washington State’s bench outscored the Trojans’ by 20 points, and their contributions were enough to secure a victory. The game saw 19 lead changes as the Cougars played against a team that has been inconsistent all season long.
The pressure is mounting on the Trojans in 2024
USC had high expectations for this season, but they have underperformed in their first 16 games. Being 8-8 is not what they had imagined, and we can clearly sense the frustrations in Enfield’s postgame press conferences. Enfield has been USC’s coach for 11 seasons, but he has never dealt with pressure like he is facing right now.
Enfield’s team is facing difficulties in organizing practice sessions due to multiple players being out of action due to injuries. This has led to a lack of consistency in their game, and they need to adopt a “next man up” mentality to keep themselves afloat in the middle of the season. When asked how he can help improve the team’s performance and win more games, Enfield is considering various options.
“We’re going to have to figure out defensively if we should play more zone” said Enfield postgame.
The team is facing some injury concerns at the moment. Collier is struggling with a contusion in his right hand, while Ellis has sustained a hamstring injury. This is going to make things difficult for USC during their upcoming road trip. It might be a good opportunity for James to get more playing time or even make it into the starting line-up.
James ended the game playing for 16 minutes, going 0 for 3 from the field with zero points, two rebounds, and one assist.
“Something we look at in player performances, we focus on their defense, energy, rebounding, playmaking, making team better. You can affect winning without scoring the ball. All of our guys, Bronny in particular, he is capable in doing that.” said Enfield on James’ overall performance on Wednesday night.
The Trojans will be hitting the road to Colorado and Arizona. They will return home to play against UCLA in a few weeks at the Galen Center. The Buffaloes have lost their last three games against the Trojans, so it will be interesting to see how this game plays out. The game will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN 2 Saturday night. Bill Walton will be on the call with Dave Pasch.