USC basketball is off to their best start in conference play since 2010 thanks to a 77-66 victory over Stanford at the Galen Center on Sunday night.
Bennie Boatwright’s up-and-under layup started the Trojans off with a lead which would grow to 13-0, including a flying Nick Rakocevic dunk. Stanford didn’t put down a shot during the first four minutes of play, with Josh Sharma breaking the scoring drought with a dunk of his own.
The Trojans did well to limit the influence of Cardinal leading scorer KZ Okpala in the first 10 minutes, but a layup and then a three pointer from the sophomore pulled his team back within seven points. Jonah Mathews answered the Stanford push with a triple to make it 24-14.
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The Cardinal didn’t come closer than seven points even though USC missed all but one of their last 10 attempts from the field in the first half. Another four-minute scoring drought for Stanford ensured the Trojans’ advantage remained in the double-digits, 31-21, at halftime.
The second half began with Stanford finding their shooting touch. A trio of Cormac Ryan three-pointers as the period unfolded cut into USC lead until Bryce Wills dunked to draw the score even at 43.
Okpala knocked down a triple to hand the Cardinal their first lead, but Shaqquan Aaron was quick to answer with a triple to tie it back up. When Ryan sank yet another, Derryck Thornton retaliated in turn as the two teams battled back and forth midway through the half.
Stanford’s hot streak cooled down eventually, opening the door for the Trojans to wrestle control back into their corner as the Cardinal went five minutes without a field goal. Boatwright led the way with Rakocevic, Thornton and Mathews each contributing as USC built up a 12-1 run to restore their lead to double-digits at 65-55.
Ryan gave Stanford some hope before the final minute with a three-pointer to make it 70-64, but Bennie Boatwright’s free throws saw out the game, which ended 77-66.
USC, who once again suited up just seven scholarship players, hit five of their first six shots of the game while Stanford missed their opening seven attempts.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the Cardinal opened the second half by flipping the script. They hit 10 of their first 11 shots including five of six three-point attempts.
The good news for USC is that it didn’t become a “tale of two halves.” The Trojans survived Stanford’s surge and leaned on their best players—Rakocevic and Boatwright—to reestablish their dominance.
Rakocevic had 12 of his teams first 19 points and ended the night with yet another double-double, posting 23 points and 10 rebounds in total.
Boatwright was quiet during the first half because of foul trouble, but delivered 22 points, most of which came in the second half, on 7-for-10 shooting with five rebounds.
Meanwhile, Thornton continued his bright stretch with nine assists and four steals to go along with 13 points.
The Trojans are now 9-6 on the season and 2-0 in conference play. That’s the first time they’ve started with an opening sweep since 2010.
Next on tap: USC will go on their first conference road trip, taking on Oregon State on Thursday, Jan. 10 at 8:00 p.m. Pacific.