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.