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."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Trojans Defeat Ducks in a Nail Biter to End Three-Game Skid

LOS ANGELES -- To excel in athletics, one has to have a short memory to forget about the negative that just occurred and focus on what needs to be done next to prevail in competition. This is exactly what Chimezie Metu did as he teamed up with Jordan McLaughlin on the game winning play in the USC Trojans 72-70 win over the Oregon Ducks Thursday night at the Galen Center.

 Just moments before the final buzzer sounded, Metu was at the free throw line with the opportunity to increase a two-point lead and possibly ice the game but he missed both free throws.

"After I missed the two free throws, we just had to go down and get a stop. There was no time to sit and sulk," said Metu. "We have to go down and get a stop. We didn't get a stop. My mentality changed when we called a timeout. My teammates and coaches were telling me to 'stay in the game, stay in the game.' I did that and got the game-winning basket. It felt good."

The win improves USC's record to 9-5 in Pac-12 play, which is good for second place in conference, and 19-9 overall.

"This was a huge win for us because we need every game down the stretch," said a jubilant Andy Enfield, after the game. "We have four games left. We have to hold our home court advantage. Right now, we are 6-1 at home. We have to focus on Saturday night and play with the same kind of energy."

With the game knotted at 70, McLaughlin was double-teamed on the right side of the floor as clock was ticking toward zero, he then found Metu cutting to the rim and tossed the ball up for a game-winning, redeeming alley oop layup.

"I'm always aware of the clock," said McLaughlin. "Coach wanted us to run it at six seconds. So, coming off the ball screen, I dragged it. Took a couple of dribbles and threw the lob."

Early on, Oregon looked like they were going to run away with the game as they jumped out to a seven-point lead, midway through the opening half. However, the Trojans weathered the storm as Metu scored five quick points out of a timeout to right the ship.

Chimezie Metu led the Trojans with 10 points at the half and no other player having more than six. Jordan McLaughlin, a Cousy Award finalist, dished out five assists in the first half.

There were four lead changes in the first half compared to 11 in the second. Oregon led by one, 29-28 at the break. The bulk of the Ducks points were produced by Payton Pritchard and Mikyle McIntosh with 10 each at halftime. McIntosh finished with 23 and Pritchard scored 17.

Both teams scored at a higher efficiency in the second half as they each surpassed their first half scoring output, 12 minutes into the half. Especially McIntosh, who came out of the break hot and continued getting buckets, as he scored the Ducks' first five points of the second half.

Not to be overlooked is the production the Trojans got from Jonah Mathews, who soon joined the party as he quickly drained two from behind the arc to help the home team keep pace right after halftime. He scored 14 of his team-leading 20 points in the latter stanza; Mathews made five three-pointers in the game.

"We decided to put him back in the starting lineup because he had been playing so well lately," said Enfield about Mathews. "He just played terrific."

Both Metu and McLaughlin produced double-doubles on the night; Metu with 18 points and 10 boards, McLaughlin with 11 points and the same amount of assists to match.

The game might have had a different outcome if not for Elijah Stewart secured an offensive rebound with the Trojans trailing 67-68 with 1:38 left on the clock. Later in that possession, Stewart received a pass from Metu in the left corner and nailed a three to give the Trojans a 70-68 lead with a minute and a half remaining. The stage was then set for the closing act.

Former Trojan and NBA All-Star Demar Derozan, who is in town for the NBA All-Star Game visited with the young Trojans before the game and gave a few words of encouragement.

Bennie Boatwright went down with a leg injury at the 7:57 mark. Coach Enfield said he would be evaluated Friday morning.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

No Griffin, No Win for Clippers a Day After the Huge Trade

LOS ANGELES -- The Portland Trailblazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 104-96. Damian Lillard led the way for Portland with 28 points, including a perfect 11-of-11 from the charity stripe. The All-Star guard filled the stat sheet in the win, adding seven assists, four rebounds, three steals, one block, and made five from behind the arc.

 It was the short-handed Clippers' first game without superstar Blake Griffin. The home team looked lethargic throughout the game, as it appeared it was an afterthought because of the shockwave that occurred a day earlier.

Tuesday afternoon, the Clippers traded its star player and fan favorite, Griffin, to the Detroit Pistons. They received Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and two draft picks as the main assets in return. The Clippers were on the cusp of a playoff position and there is speculation the organization might be waving the white flag, to begin a rebuild. And there might be more moves to come.

"There are seven days left [until trade deadline]," said Clippers' coach Doc Rivers prior to the game. "This team has not changed its goals about the playoffs. Our goal is to do that. We don't have a lot of time to get this stuff together."

The make-up of this team is completely different from the one that was dubbed Lob City when the Clippers acquired All-NBA guard Chris Paul to begin the 2011/12 season to join Griffin, a combination that energized the franchise's fan base after years of disappointment.

Although entertaining, Lob City couldn't advance beyond the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. In the 2017 off-season, owner Steve Ballmer brought in front office guru, Jerry West, to consult and help make improvements to the roster. CP3 left to Houston shortly after, and now Griffin in the middle of the season.

"Everyone was involved," said Rivers. "Nothing really changes, as far as how we discuss trades, at all... With Blake, I really enjoyed coaching him. We all will have regretted not even going to the Western Conference Finals. We had our chances."

In this game, the Clippers lacked energy from the jump, as a half-filled arena saw the visitors run off the first six points. Even though the Clippers kept it close for most of the first half, they never really threatened. Portland held a 56-51 halftime lead.

The Trailblazers, then, opened the second half on a 14-4 run to take a commanding 15-point lead that grew to as large as 20. They outscored the Clippers 30-16 in the deciding period.

"The third quarter was great," said Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "The offense was efficient. Defensively, we were on point. The third quarter was the best part of the game. The first half, I thought, was mediocre. Third quarter was great."

The Clippers made a late push in the closing minutes to try to steal away the game. Lou Williams sank three free throws to cap a 10-0 run which drew the deficit to six at 100-94. Then a Jusuf Nurkic putback, followed by a Williams turnover that lead to a dunk on a fast break by former Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu, which sealed the deal for Portland.

Nurkic scored 14 points and secured a career-high 20 rebounds. Aminu also had a double-double, with 11 points and 10 boards. CJ McCollum chipped in with 16 points.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 20 points, off the bench, but only made 5-of-26 from the field. DeAndre Jordan pulled down 19 rebounds. Jordan provided his thoughts on the big trade and what his mindset for the rest of the season is.

“The organization felt like it was best for our team now and along the future," said Jordan after the game. "Blake was a teammate of mine for nine years, this whole time here. We had a lot of great times together and he’ll be a friend of mine after basketball... We have to Control the things that we can control and worry about winning games and getting better as an individual and as a unit."

The Clippers will have three days off before the next game against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday Afternoon. It will also be the debut of their new players.