March Madness: USC advances to Elite 8 with rout of Oregon – Los Angeles Times
Defense had always been its calling card. When the threes weren’t falling and its offense wasn’t clicking and the sloppy mistakes threatened to sink USC, defense was the one thing Andy Enfield could consistently depend on. The coach rebuilt his roster ahead of his eighth season with that intimidating image in mind, stockpiling size and doubling up on length, all in hopes that the rest of its talented pieces would come together at the right moment.
That moment has now stretched through four magical, unexpected weeks of March. It bulldozed right past Drake, ran right through Kansas, and on Sunday in the Sweet 16, rolled right over the top of Oregon, drowning the Ducks in a sea of threes and tangled Trojans arms at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. What began as a simmering rematch to rewrite the Pac-12 title for USC quickly became a stunning 82-68 beatdown on its way to the Elite Eight, its first time so deep in March since 2001.
“This is a big moment in USC basketball,” Enfield said. “It’s our second Elite Eight in the last 60 years. This is a huge win for our players, our program.”
With its defense dominating and its unexpected offense soaring, arguably no team has proved more powerful than USC through three rounds of the NCAA tournament. No one except perhaps for top overall seed Gonzaga, this season’s juggernaut, which awaits USC in the next round.
But the undefeated Bulldogs, with their litany of NBA talent, have yet to face a defense quite like USC’s. After holding both Drake and Kansas to just 29% shooting, USC suffocated Oregon in nearly the same manner, stifling its guards with size and crowding the paint with its length. Even a strong start couldn’t save the Ducks, who shot just 37% and 24% from the three-point line, which had been their bread and butter on the way to the Sweet 16.
For USC, that run continued Sunday just as confidently as it began, carrying USC further than anyone in their right mind could’ve expected at the start of March.
But the Trojans proved again just how thoroughly they’d been underestimated. A season that started with the media picking USC just sixth in its own conference has now left the Trojans as one of just eight teams left in the field. Three of those teams are from the Pac-12, which has spent this March rewriting its own recent history.
Highlights from USC’s win over Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
“Everyone doubted us,” USC guard Isaiah White said. “Once we found out they had us at sixth in the Pac-12, I think we really came together, just to prove everyone wrong.”
That revenge tour was already a wild success ahead of Sunday, even before USC locked down on defense midway through the first half. As Oregon found its rhythm early, Enfield chose to switch to a zone to contain its bevy of guards.
“When they’re small, I didn’t think we could guard them man to man and win the game,” Enfield said.
The adjustment turned out to be all USC (25-7) would need to turn up the pressure. Suddenly, Oregon could barely manage to get a shot off. Every drive was stopped dead by USC’s size in the lane. Every ball screen was stifled by the Trojans’ unusual length. As Oregon passed and passed and passed around the perimeter, there were no openings to be found in the paint.
That’s when USC found its stroke on the other end. The Trojans had started off with a pair of airballs, missing four of its first five from the field. But once the nervous energy of USC’s first Sweet 16 appearance wore off, they came alive again.
Tahj Eaddy, who hit six threes in their first meeting, pulled up in transition from deep with 11:28 left, giving USC its first lead. Isaiah White followed with a three of his own.
The two transfers had mostly taken a backseat over the past month, cooling off from previous hot streaks. They’d deferred largely to Evan and Isaiah Mobley, for whom Oregon again had no match for on the interior.
There would be no deferring on Sunday. White had scored in double figures just twice since the start of February, but against Oregon, he exploded for a season-high 22 points. Eaddy, meanwhile, added 20, his first time scoring that many since USC’s previous win over Oregon, when he scored 24.
“We weren’t backing down,” White said. “We came out kind of flat, and they were leaving certain people open. I just wanted to let them know we weren’t letting down.”
USC 82, Oregon 68 (final)
Evan Mobley threw down a monstrous, two-handed dunk with 2:52 remaining that seemed to put an exclamation point on USC’s win.
Eugene Omoruyi makes two free throws to keep Oregon within 12 with less than 3 minutes remaining. After Mobley made two free throws, Frank Kepnang and Max Agbonkpolo exchanged dunks on either end of the floor.
Tahj Eaddy made a pair of free throws for an 80-64 lead with under 2 minutes remaining. Kepnang got a layup and was fouled at 1:30. He missed the free throw, USC up by 14. Max Agbonkpolo made two free throws. Kepnang got a dunk to close out the scoring.
USC 72, Oregon 60 (3:20 left in second half)
Franck Kepnang pulls Oregon to within 13 with a layup. Eugene Omoruyi tips it in for the Ducks, who are on a 9-0 run. Omoruyi got another tip in to bring Oregon to within nine points, but Tahj Eaddy hit a three-pointer to break a Trojans scoring drought that lasted more than five minutes.
USC 69, Oregon 54 (7:35 left in second half)
Isaiah Mobley got a third-chance layup. Eugene Omoruyi made two free throws. Isaiah White hit a layup. Isaiah Mobley got fouled on a layup and completed the three-point player for a 21-point USC lead with less than 10-minutes remaining.
USC is leading by 21 with 10 minutes left. Only Gonzaga has been this dominant in the tournament.
Omoruyi made a jumper and free throw. Max Agbonkpolo hit a layup for USC, Oregon’s Chris Duarte got a three-pointer and Agbonkpolo answered with a three-pointer of his own. Duarte made three free throws. Omoruyi got a tip shot for Oregon.
USC 57, Oregon 41 (13:01 left in second half)
LJ Figueroa made a jumper and Chris Duarte got a layup to pull Oregon to within 52-39. Isaiah White got a fast-break layup on a goal-tending call, then hit his fifth three-pointer of the game. Eugene Omoruyi hit a layup before an Oregon timeout.
Isaiah White has 20 points already. He had just one 20-point performance before tonight this season.
Will Richardson opened the second-half scoring with a three-pointer for Oregon. Isaiah Mobley got a second-chance basket for USC. Chris Duarte drove for a layup. Tahj Eaddy hit a running layup and drew the foul. He completed the three-point play. Duarte hit a jumper for Oregon. Isaiah White hit another three-pointer for a 49-32 USC lead at the 17-minute mark.
Evan Mobley hit a jumper for a 14-point Trojan lead. Oregon’s Eugene Omoruyi made three of three free throws. Tahj Eaddy drove in for a layup. Isaiah Mobley got a putback for a 15-point USC lead with just over 1:30 left. LJ Figueroa hit a jumper.
Evan Mobley might just be in triple-double territory tonight. Six points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists with 1 minute left in the half.
Chris Duarte hit a three-pointer for Oregon, and USC’s Isaiah White followed with a putback and completed the three-point play, 10-9 Oregon. Will Richardson hit a straight-away three-pointer. USC’s Isaiah Mobley got a dunk on an assist from his brother. Duarte and Mobley exchanged layups. Tahj Eaddy hit a three-pointer for USC’s first lead of the game, 16-15. Eric Williams Jr. got a layup for Oregon, and USC’s White answered with a three-pointer. He has 10 points already.
Isaiah White from deep again. He’s feeling it tonight. 10 points for him in the first 9:30.