Their suffocating defense was wavering. Their grip atop the Pac-12 had already slipped amid an ice-cold two-loss trip to the Rockies. But USC was still holding on for dear life in a dead heat atop the conference, still clinging to second place as Oregon caught fire and UCLA fell apart in the minutes before Wednesday’s tipoff.
Just nine days ago, USC (20-6, 14-5) held its title fate in its own hands. But that felt like ancient history now after the losses to Arizona and Colorado and Utah. After winning 13 of 14, the Trojans had lost three of four, ready to take all of its frustrations out on a Stanford team missing its leading scorer. Their dwindling title chances depended on it.
That desperation was clear, as USC snapped back to form against Stanford in a 79-42 beatdown marked by one of its most stifling defensive performances of the season.
The victory keeps USC’s Pac-12 hopes alive, albeit on life support. As Oregon came back to beat UCLA, any chance of the Trojans controlling their fate in the race disappeared. If they can beat the Bruins when the two rivals meet Saturday, they’ll have to hope Oregon State can beat Oregon at home when those two rivals meet a day later.
USC didn’t wait long to take control where it could. As USC swarmed the perimeter and clogged the paint, Stanford started an unthinkable two of 22 from the field, unable to conjure up any sort of offense.
USC was slow to start as well with six turnovers in six minutes. But with its defense leading the way, the Trojans fired off a 15-0 run and never looked back. USC held Stanford to 25% shooting, outrebounded the Cardinal by a margin of 28 and yield the fewest points its defense had all season.
Tahj Eaddy led the way with 16 points, while Drew Peterson added 15. But it was USC’s defense that saw the Trojans stomp Stanford.
In any normal year, Wednesday would’ve marked Senior Night as well as the final chance to celebrate freshman Evan Mobley in front of a home crowd. But the Trojans’ highest-rated recruit ever never played in front of fans at USC during this pandemic season.
And as a likely top-three pick, he won’t be returning for the next one.
Mobley did score 10 points with eight rebounds in his final game at Galen Center, and he can still be the first to lead the Trojans to a regular-season Pac-12 title since 1985 — with a win against UCLA on Saturday and a little help from Oregon State on Sunday.
But after USC’s brutal mountain road trip, not even a perfect effort against their crosstown rivals, who were preseason pick to win the conference, can seal their fate.
Oregon, which currently holds the league lead, is peaking at the right time, with 10 wins in its last 11 games and four in a row since losing to USC nine days ago.
The Trojans were firing on all cylinders that day, exploding out of the gate to open on a statement-making 15-0 run. They wound up beating the Ducks handily 72-58 in their only meeting of the season.