USC basketball suffered two straight Pac-12 losses in Oregon, but have recently bounced back to win three crucial games in a row, including a big win over rival UCLA.
In the past couple weeks, USC basketball has just pulled off a pleasantly-surprising three-game Pac-12 winning streak.
The team started Pac-12 play with a quick two game run against Stanford and Cal that was quickly followed by two straight losses to Oregon State and Oregon. Those two losses were the first two games in USC’s most critical stretch of the season, and it appeared that things were not looking bright for the Trojans.
Then came the UCLA game. After two games of stagnant, frustrating play, the team came back to life out of nowhere, and dominated their crosstown rivals. The Trojans played a complete game, with a combination of defensive stops and smooth ball movement resulting in a both satisfying and significant 80-67 win.
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Once again, center Nick Rakocevic stepped up and dropped a solid double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Bennie Boatwright also continued to shine as a leader for the team while scoring 21.
These two players have proven to be key to USC’s success this season. When Boatwright and Rakocevic have played well, USC has also tended to be more successful. Against Oregon State and Oregon, Rakocevic struggled, scoring only 6 and 11 points.
Since then Rakocevic has scored no less than 15 points in the past three games. The end result has been three USC wins.
In the next game against Arizona, USC continued their momentum from the UCLA game, beating another rival in dominating fashion. USC had four scorers in double digits, including another huge double-double from Rakocevic, who tied a career-high 27 points.
The Arizona game also included the long-awaited return of Kevin Porter Jr., who did not disappoint with a solid 14 point outing. Porter looked a little rusty at first, but quickly settled in and relied on his efficient shooting to go three-for-four from deep.
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The ball continued to roll for the team against Arizona State. In a back-and-forth game, USC showed some grit, toughness, and most importantly clutch plays in late game situations.
On the defensive end, the Trojans did not allow more than 11 points from any ASU player. On offense, USC once again had four players in double digits, led by Boatwright, who ended up hitting the clutch game-winning three with 14 seconds to go.
So now what? The Pac-12 has struggled as a whole this year, and for the most part, USC has taken advantage of it, currently sitting second in the standings. However, if they once again demonstrate inconsistent play and the inability to succeed over long periods of time, then I wouldn’t be surprised if they started to drop must-win games in conference play.
Don’t get your hopes too high up right now, but if the team can post a reasonable 7-4 or even 8-3 record in their remaining schedule, then a chance at a bid to the NCAA tournament would be well within grasp.
Next up will be another critical game against Washington, who has yet to lose a conference game. Other than Washington, however, the rest of the schedule is nothing special aside from a rematch against UCLA. So as of right now the USC basketball team is in surprisingly solid shape.