A complete defensive game combined with a productive second half shooting performance against the California Bears led to the USC Trojans’ sixth consecutive victory.
“That was a good game for us,” remarked USC head coach Andy Enfield. “We played good defense for 40 minutes. We struggled in the first half, then we played like we have been in the second half.”
The Trojans were sluggish on offense through the first half. The team shot just 32 percent from the field.
“It’s nice playing great defense, zone and man, deflections and steals forcing a lot of turnovers,” Enfield said. “It gives us a chance to stay in the game until we shoot the ball better which gives us a chance to win.”
California led by as much as eight points in the first half with 10 minutes left. The Trojans were able to capitalize on the Bears’ 14 first half turnovers that were converted to 17 points.
USC’s Jonah Matthews stopped the Bears’ scoring run by nailing a three-pointer. Matthews led the Trojans in scoring with eight points off the bench. Despite shooting 15 percent worse than California in the first half, the Trojans managed a two-point lead at halftime, 31-29.
“Our energy was slow in the first half, coach talked about it at halftime,” said senior guard Jordan McLaughlin.
Elijah Stewart sparked that energy with hot shooting hands to start the second half. After shooting 0-for-4 from the field in the first half, Enfield told Stewart that his former coaches from Westchester High School, family and friends who came to watch him play were going to leave if he did not start playing better.
“My teammates just kept telling me to shoot it,” Stewart said. “When that first one went in, I got my confidence back.”
Stewart made three straight three-pointers. All of Stewart’s 16 points came in the second half.
“When he’s making shots, he’s very effective and it usually means we’re going to go on some kind of run,” coach Enfield said.
The team did just that, a 16-6 run for the Trojans. USC made 8 of 13 three-pointers in the second half. Jonah Matthews contributed 16 of the 31 points the Trojans bench scored. USC’s bench outscored California’s bench 31-4.
California’s forward Marcus Lee posted a game high double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds. His post presence presented matchup problems for the Trojans.
“We let him get too many post touches, too close to the basket,” said coach Enfield. “You have to give him credit, he played a great game.”
The Bears 20 turnovers spoiled any chance the team had of coming back. California fell to 7-15, 1-8 in conference play as they suffered their eighth straight loss.
With the win, USC improved to 8-2 in the conference a team best since 2002. USC remains second in Pac-12 standings behind the University of Arizona (8-1).
“It’s hard to win in the Pac-12, so any time you win this big and the fact that we’ve won six in a row now, we’ve got to keep it going,” said senior guard Jordan McLaughlin, who added 9 points and 10 assists.
The Trojans will embark on a three-game road trip. The team first faces PAC-12 rival UCLA in the battle of L.A. at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 3 at 3 p.m.
Bennie Boatwright missed his second consecutive game for the Trojans due to soreness in his right foot. Boatwright dealt with the same injury earlier in the season when he missed games against UC Santa Barbara and Princeton.
“It’s day-to-day,” said coach Enfield. “He probably needs a few more days of rest and then we’ll see.”