Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Shorthanded Trojans Defeat Bears in Conference Opener

LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans only had seven scholarship players available for its Pac-12 Conference opener but that didn’t matter as they dispatched the California Golden Bears 82-73, Thursday night at the Galen Center. 

A Trio of Trojans – Nick Rakocevic, Bennie Boatwright, and Derryck Thornton – did the heavy lifting in the victory as they each scored in double figures, with 27, 19, and 13 points respectively. But it was the passing by Thornton, who dished out 12 assists on the night, which was the key factor for the home team.

“He just made some nice penetration moves and was able to find guys and make some good decisions,” said Trojan’s Head Coach Andy Enfield, about Thornton’s play.

It took the Trojans no time at all to get warmed up, as they scored the first five points of the game. The Bears played their way into the game shortly after and put USC on notice, holding a 12-9 lead. However, that would be the last time they would be ahead on the scoreboard.

Just prior to the eight-minute media timeout, Boatwright nailed a three that helped the Trojans seize control of the game with an 8-0 run that gave them their largest lead of the first half at 28-17. Boatwright led the Trojans with 10 points at the half on four of five shooting, which included making both of his attempts from behind the arc. Thornton had a game-high eight assists at halftime. 

“Everything is starting to come together for [Thornton],” Boatwright said. “His rebounding, passing, scoring, and I don’t think he had any turnovers… He just controlled the game and it was big for us, coming out with the win.”

The Trojans led 37-33 at the intermission, featuring balanced scoring. But when they came out the break, Enfield and the Trojans had a different approach – feed Rakocevic.  The big man scored 14 of team's first 18 of the 2nd half, including 10 straight for the Trojans in one stretch. 20 of his career-high 27 points came in the second half.

“We made the adjustment at halftime to start to dive him and attack the elbows in the zone, he was able to get behind the defense” said Enfield about Rakocevic. “I thought he played very efficiently and extremely well in the second half.”

The win in this game was seemingly in the bag when USC held its largest lead at 65-50, until Rakocevic committed a flagrant foul just short of the eight-minute media timeout.

“We got tangled… I tried to get him off me but the ref saw that I had a reaction, said Rakocevic. “I just have to do a better job of letting things like that go.”

Coach Enfield said it was great his team showed emotion but that play changed the momentum of the game as the Bears went on a 17-6 run to close the gap to four, 71-67, with almost two minutes left on the clock.

Thornton then did what he had been doing all night, which was penetrate the defense and found a wide-open Shaqquan Aaron for a three to slow the bleeding and help secure the win.

The Trojans shared the ball well and protected it in this game as they had 21 assists to only 5 turnovers.

In walk-throughs, before tonight’s matchup, key reserve Elijah Weaver sprained his ankle and was ruled out for the contest. Earlier in the week, another key player, Jordan Usher asked for and was granted a transfer.

USC will look to begin conference play 2-0 as they host the Stanford Cardinal on Sunday.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Dodgers Overpower Phillies in Clash of NL Leaders

LOS ANGELES -- It was fireworks night at Dodgers Stadium where the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball fans were treated to rockets spreading glare and bombs bursting in the air, both after and during the game. Powered by four home runs, the Dodgers defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 6-3 on Friday.

It is just a third of the way through the Major League Baseball season but with the Dodgers and Phillies having the two best records in the National League, this series could possibly be a playoff preview. There were an announced 54,307 fans packed inside the stadium at Chavez Ravine, which is the largest regular season attendance since 2012 and they were all here to shower boos on Bryce Harper every time he came to the plate. The Dodgers were one of the finalists on Harper's free agency list last winter, before he eventually chose to sign a record-breaking 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia.

Early on, it appeared that it might be a pitcher's duel as the Dodgers' Kenta Maeda held the Phillies hitless through three innings. The Dodgers also squandered some scoring opportunities against Jake Arrieta early on as they stranded three of their hitters on base through the first two innings. Then things started to heat up from there.

The bottom of the third inning saw the Phillies shift its infield to the right side, just as the analytics scouting says to do for Joc Pederson but that did not faze him as he hit a hard grounder that gave Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez trouble. Pederson hustled to first to beat the throw, for an infield single. Max Muncy followed that up by banging Arrieta's second pitch, a slider, to the right field pavilion to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. Cody Bellinger hit a single through another infield shift. However, he was caught stealing at second. The Dodgers challenged the call but replays showed Hernandez skillfully blocked the bag, preventing Bellinger from touching it before the tag. The Dodgers inning then fizzled out.

Maeda's magic came to an abrupt end as Phillies' Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen blasted a breaking ball over the center field wall to lead off the fourth inning. Maeda then easily dispatched the next three hitters. Maeda struck out J.T Realmuto for the second time in the game to start the fifth but began laboring as he hit Cesar Hernandez and gave up a single to Scott Kingery. After Nick Williams grounded into a fielder's choice, getting to face his pitching counterpart with two outs must have felt like a gift for Maeda. However, Arrieta lined an RBI single to left field to tie up the ball game.

The Dodgers bats were looking to pick up their starting pitcher, who had won his previous three starts, at the bottom of the fifth. Pederson led off the inning by hammering a long ball about 445 feet to deep right field. Muncy then singled to follow that up. Corey Seager, who had been one of the team's hottest hitters over the last 10 games, drove Muncy in with a hit a two-run home run that just cleared the right field fence.

"They all count. I'll take it," Seager laughingly responded when asked if he is embarrassed that his home run was the shortest of the night. "[Arrieta] is tough. He kind of got us the first time through and the second time through, we kind of capitalized off some mistakes."

The big inning gave the Dodgers a 5-2 lead and Maeda a little bit more cushion to work with. Maeda made quick work of the Phillies -- one, two, and three outs -- in the top of the sixth inning and handed the game over to the Dodgers' bemoaned bullpen. Maeda finished with six strikeouts on 97 pitches to go to seven wins, with two losses on the season. The pen gave up only one run, charged to Dylan Floro. Kenley Jensen finished the game with a one-out save, his 17th of the season.

"It was very positive," said Jensen regarding the bullpen's performance in this game. "For us, down the road, in the bullpen, to lock it down is going to be great for us."

The three hitters in the top of the batting order for the Dodgers -- Pederson, Muncy, and Seager combined to hit five for 11, with five runs batted in, and five runs scored. Kiké Hernandez added a long solo bomb in the eighth inning.

The Dodgers improve its record to an MLB-best 39-19. While the Phillies drop to 33-24. Dave Roberts' right-hand man Bob Geren managed Dodgers in this game because Roberts took the night off to watch his son graduate from high school in San Diego.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Trojans Loss to Bears Ends Chance at Conference Title

LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans (5-5) hopes for a Pac-12 South title were ended on homecoming night as they lost 15-14 to the California Golden Bears (6-4), at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

"Sometimes you have a season that just doesn't go your way," said USC head coach Clay Helton. "but I believe in this coaching staff, I believe in the leadership, I believe in our players most of all, and I believe better days are ahead."

It was a tale of two halves as the USC Trojans dominated the play in the first and second quarters. However, that dominant team was unrecognizable after the break as they self-destructed by turning the ball over and showing lack of discipline. Credit goes to the Golden Bears who took advantage of the opportunities they got to leave Los Angeles with a win.

After the Trojan defense held the Bears to a three and out on the opening possession of the game, which started on its own three yard line, a 43-yard Cal punt and a fair catch by Tyler Vaughn gave the Trojans great field position at the Cal 48 yard line. Unfortunately for the Trojans, this drive stalled at the Bear's 25 yard line.

Coach Helton assumed play-calling duties the previous game against Oregon State, with much success, and was back at it again. As the Trojans were set to get three points from a 43-yard field goal on its first possession, they instead attempted a fake as place kicker Michael Brown rushed to the left end and was tackled from behind for a two yard loss. That is zero on the scoreboard for them.

“I will always try to put our players in the best position to make plays," said Helton. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But I believe in our kids and in their ability to make plays. Wish we made a couple more today."

Tyler Vaughns opened the scoring for the Trojans with a two-yard touchdown reception from J.T. Daniels at the start of the second quarter to put them up 7-0. The play was set up by a 44 yard dash from Aca'Cedric Ware down the right sideline to set them up with a goal to goal to end the first quarter.

It was Vaughns again, midway through the second quarter, with another touchdown reception. This time it was from 23 yards out. It could not have happened without Amon-Ra St.Brown converting a fourth-and-6 with a reception on the previous play, taking a big hit in the process.

The Trojans were on their way to blowing the game wide open, going into halftime as they drove into the red zone with just under a minute left. However, St. Brown fumbled at the Bear's 10 and killed all of the momentum heading into the locker room and leaving more points on the field, as the scoreboard read USC 14, California 0 at halftime.

The Trojans came out of the locker room in the same sloppy fashion they went in with. On the third play of the half's opening possession from their 22 yard line, USC center Toa Lobendahn's snap went over Daniel's head, who then recovered it in the end zone for a Cal safety.

The Bears capitalized on their good fortune when they quickly scored on a three-play 50 yard drive, immediately after the safety, which was punctuated by a 29 yard touchdown pass from Garbers to Vic Wharton. The score made it a one possession game at 14-9.

When a Bear wants a taste of honey, it will keep beating down the door until it gets it. And that's exactly what the Bear's defense did on the very next possession when Traveon Beck intercepted Daniels, which led to a workman-like nine-play 40 yard touchdown drive for the Bears. Garbers weaved his way into the end zone on a five yard run to give the Bears a 15-14 lead. One that they would never relinquish.

With the Trojan defense trying to stop the Bears late in the fourth quarter, to give the ball back to its offense for one last chance to capture the game, they shoot themselves in the foot once again. A third down conversion by the Bears was overturned by the officials but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Trojan defensive back Iman Marshall extended the drive for the visitors.

"I know he's sick about it," said Helton about Marshall's penalty. "But that one play did not lose the football game."

USC plays cross-town rivals UCLA next Saturday at 5 p.m. at The Rose Bowl.

Monday, March 19, 2018

USC Season Ends With Air Ball in Loss to Western Kentucky

LOS ANGELES -- The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers pounded the ball inside to Justin Johnson, 23 points, early and got buckets from him late as they defeated the USC Trojans 79-75 in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, Monday night at the Galen Center, ending its season.

Proving the NCAA Tournament selection committee wrong would turn out to be a tougher task than expected when leading scorer and rebounder Chimezie Metu, who chose not to play in the NIT to stay healthy for NBA draft preparations.

Metu cheered his team on from the stands. After the game USC's head coach Andy Enfield said the administration made the decision that Metu was not allowed to sit on the bench with the team since he was eligible and not injured but made the decision not to play. Freshman Victor Uyaelunmo got the start in place of Metu. Uyaelunmo opened the scoring with an easy dunk but didn't do much else.

"We much rather had him in than the other big guy [Metu] who was starting," said Stansbury.

The 2018 version NIT is experimenting with four rules modifications. First is the three-point line extended 20 inches to beyond 22 feet. The second is the free throw lane widened from 12 to 16 feet. Third, the game will be divided into four 10-minute quarters instead of 20 minute halves. Lastly, the shot clock resets to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound, opposed to the full 30.

Extending the three point line may have had a direct impact on the game's outcome. In the final minute, with the Trojans down by two points, Jordan Usher shot an airball from the right wing.

"We backed off Usher late in the game, hoping the freshman would take a shot and he took a shot," said Western Kentucky's head coach Rick Stansbury. "We didn't want McLaughlin beating us. We didn't want that big boy on the roll beating us. We didn't want Stewart running off a double screen.

"The guy that we were going to take a chance on was Usher. And he jumped up and didn't make the shot. You have to roll with your percentages and we were lucky to get out of here with the W."

After Usher airballed with 24 seconds left, the Trojans, inexplicably, failed to foul Western Kentucky to extend the game. Instead the Hilltoppers broke an attempted trap for an easy dunk to seal the ball game.

Elijah Stewart finished with 20 points. Jordan McLaughlin dished out 14 assists.

The game was essentially decided at the free throw line. Western Kentucky made 16 of 17 from the charity stripe while USC made only eight of 19. According to Stansbury, this has been the Hilltoppers M.O. all season as his team has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted this year.

The Trojans held the lead for most of the game. Powered by Elijah Stewart's 10 points, including two from beyond the extended arc, USC led 23-18 at the end of the first quarter. Johnson, the Hill Toppers' leading scorer and rebounder on the season, scored 10 of his team's 18 points in the first quarter.

"We were much more efficient around the rim. I didn't do a good job of taking more advantage, using Justin tonight," said Stansbury.

The second quarter played out much different than the first, as the Hill Toppers tightened up on defense, forcing the Trojans to take contested jumpers. On the offensive side of the ball, Jake Ohmer ignited visitors by draining two deep threes early in the second quarter. The halftime score was 40-39 in favor of the Hilltoppers.

The Hilltoppers looked like they were going to pull away in the third when their lead was stretched to seven points with 1:43 left in the quarter. However, USC ended the quarter on an 8-2 run that featured Stewart catching a lob from McLaughlin, bringing the crowd to its feet and hitting a three to end quarter. Trojans still trailed by one to end the quarter.

USC came out in the fourth quarter riding momentum, opened quarter on 9-2 run to take a six point lead. The Hilltoppers battled back with a run of their own to take a lead. The Hilltoppers went to Johnson late and he closed it out for them.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

USC Falls to UCLA in Regular Season Finale 83-72

LOS ANGELES -- Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes combined for 56 points to lead the way for the UCLA Bruins in an 83-72 win over cross-town rival USC Trojans, Saturday night at the Galen Center.

The Bruins used an 18-3 run, midway through the second half, to come from behind and seize control of the game. Holiday scored nine points out of the first 11 during that crucial run. UCLA never looked back after that.

"Tough game for us this evening, UCLA played extremely well offensively," said USC head coach Andy Enfield. "Give them credit. They made shot after shot during that run when they took the lead. We had trouble stopping them."

This was the final regular season home game for the Trojans and it was also Senior Night, as the four-year players for USC were celebrated in a ceremony prior to the game. One of those seniors, Pac-12 assists leader and Bob Cousy Award Finalist Jordan McLaughlin, went in his bag early in the game and set the tone by scoring seven of USC's first 11 points. The Trojans just couldn't hold on.

"We got outplayed for 10 minutes... and that's it," said Enfield.

The Bruins, who badly needed this win to upgrade their resume for an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament, had intentions of making sure the only Trojan celebrations took place before the game, especially the conference leading scorer -- Holiday.

"We're the point guards of our teams, leading our teams," said McLaughlin, who had a team-high 19 points and four assists. "Tonight we did a good job of that... and he [Holiday] won the battle.

"He was being aggressive, used the pick and roll to try and get in the paint, knocking down shots. He hit some tough ones. He was just being aggressive."

The Trojans led most of the way and held a 43-40 lead at halftime. USC featured a balanced scoring attack in the first half, with all eight players who entered the game scratching the score sheet. Chimezie Metu finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

UCLA's deficit at the half could have been much larger if Bruin freshman forward Wilkes didn't score 15 of his career high 22 points in the first half. Wilkes shot six of eight while draining three threes in the process. Holiday scored 14 in the first half and 20 in the second.

Discussion after the game quickly turned to the Pac-12 tournament, leading into selection Sunday for the NCAA tournament. Even with the loss, USC finished second in the conference. In years past, this would be good enough for a ticket to the dance but Arizona is the only ranked team in the conference.

USC senior guard Elijah Stewart had the sentiment that it doesn't matter occurred in the regular season because each of the conference's teams are vulnerable in tournament play. Coach Enfield wants his team to focus on one game at a time because nobody knows what the criteria is for making the tournament.

"We have a big week ahead of us," said Enfield. "We have some very good wins... Sometimes common sense has to prevail."