The USC Trojans Men’s Basketball Team traveled to the state of Arizona in a pivotal road trip to cement their legitimacy in the suddenly-strong Pac-12 conference.
During the first game of the trip, the Trojans shot 53-percent from behind the arc propelling their 93-point effort against ASU. Jio Fontan carried the load for USC, scoring a season-high 25 points while only committing one turnover in the process.
The second game however featured a complete role reversal on offense, only scoring 40 points in the first 38 minutes of action. Jio Fontan crashed back to earth from his shooting exhibition on Thursday, scoring nine points on 22-percent shooting from the field.
Before looking ahead to the Bruins matchup on Wednesday, let’s dive into some of the keys of why the Trojans went winless on the road trip.
SILENT POST PLAY
The Trojans frontcourt has fallen into a recent dry spell against top competition. After dominating the interior for most of the season, the seven-foot Trojans have lost their edge on both ends of the court. Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon have fallen victim of complacency under the direction of Head Coach Bob Cantu.
Without rigorous coaching on the defensive end of the court, both players remain defensive liabilities that are not playing to their individual potential.
Instead of dominating the glass and defending the paint, both are picking up fouls at a dangerous rate. Oraby accumulated eight fouls in only 34 minutes of action, while Dedmon fouled out against Arizona State and earned two early fouls against Arizona.
The best way to gauge impact of the Trojans seven-footers is to examine their offensive shot totals and defensive rebounds on a nightly basis. In an overtime contest against Arizona State, Dedmon only registered four shots and five rebounds; numbers that are unacceptable against the likes of 6-foot-7 forward Jonathan Gilling.
Oraby was slightly more effective, with six shots and three blocks, but remained quiet on the boards. The lack of athleticism and toughness in his game is starting to frustrate the entire Trojan nation beyond repair. Five rebounds in 20-plus minutes is not good enough from Oraby.
ERIC WISE EXHIBITS IMMATURITY
The Trojans leading scorer on the season has spent too much time gloating at the stat sheet instead of focusing on his role in the offense. Eric Wise is a fifth-year senior but has played like a freshmen in some of the teams most crucial moments.
With 3:34 to play against Arizona State, Wise picked up a silly technical foul after complaining about not getting a foul called on a rebound. That play allowed ASU to knock in two free throws, ultimately forcing the game to go into overtime.
In overtime Wise ran his favorite two-man wheel play with Jio Fontan. Wise grabbed the ball at corner of the paint and had the option to hand off to Fontan or instead drive to the basket. Instead of feeding Fontan the easy 12-foot jumper from the baseline, Wise drove to his left and lost the ball off his foot resulting in a costly turnover.
Matters got even worse against Arizona, especially to begin the game. In the first 14 minutes of action, Wise committed four turnovers and went scoreless from the field. That type of play allowed the Trojans to fall into a 31-9 hole against Arizona they were never able to climb back from.
Transfers Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge were notoriziously underplayed as part of Kevin O’Neill’s supposed dog house.
When their backs where against the wall versus Arizona, Head Coach Bob Cantu called in Renaldo Woolridge and Ari Stewart to save the Trojans offense. Both responded well over the weekend, earning their minutes by placing tenacious basketball on both sides of the ball.
Woolridge came right into the game and connected on his first three-point attempt. In his first six minutes of action overall, Woolridge scored six points, grabbed three rebounds, recorded one block and got two steals. Those type of high-impact minutes will be vital for this team moving forward.
Ari Stewart has been the secret weapon off the bench for Head Coach Bob Cantu, scoring 13 points in an efficient 26 minutes of action. By no means am I stating that he should start, but the added athleticism he brings to the court makes for some exciting basketball.
JT TERRELL THE CLOSER
If anyone has earned the title of closer, JT Terrell is definitely that man for the USC Trojans. Down by what seemed an insurmountable nine points with less by five minutes to play; Terrell shot the lights out to bring his team back.
Terrell hit his free throws and nailed two clutch three pointers in front of strong defense to force overtime. Jio Fontan may be better at driving to the basket, but Terrell has earned the role of big-shot closer on this team.
As Pac-12 play progresses, expect the Trojans to feed Terrell set plays from behind the arc late in the shot clock. This season has taught us that the talented guard can shoot from anywhere on the court and is never afraid to fire the trigger.
This type of swagger is contagious, sparking the Trojans offensive explosion over the last six games. Terrell had scored in double figures in five straight contests before coming up stone cold, 1-7 from the field, against Arizona. As for most of the team, perimeter shooting will decide the fate of their offense.
The Trojans top recruit from last summer Strahinja Gavrilovic, or Luis to Kevin O’Neill, played four minutes against Arizona on Saturday. Gavrilovic accomplished the first of many milestones in his career scoring his first points as a Trojan. The talented freshmen drove to the basket with purpose and played extremely well without the basketball.
Like most of the Trojans, his help defense was rusty, seing Gavrilovic step on the court for even trash minutes was a nice sight to see. The programs future could be built around the 6’9″ Serbian with a nice shooting touch and tremendous basketball intelligence.