Trojans trying to 'build it' with young guys

USC's young guys are starting to get it for Andy Enfield as the Trojans ran off their third straight win, this one against Loyola-Marymount, 77-61, Wednesday night at Galen Center.

Biggest question by far to be answered at the USC-Loyola-Marymount game at Galen Center Wednesday evening: Was it worth a rainy rush hour commute from Orange County that was longer than the two-hour game?

Maybe. And that's not a backhanded compliment for the Trojans' 77-61 win over the Lions from across town. It's a comment on a young team, with talent, getting better.

A young USC team that's not turning the ball over in ridiculous numbers it opened with this season.

A team that's defending better and, surprise of surprises, is led by Katin Reinhardt, the UNLV transfer with the gunner mentality from his Mater Dei days. Now he's guarding the opponent's best offensive player. And winning some of those battles.

And dare we say it: Did we see some "Dunk City" out there that brought a noisy crowd of 2,537 to its feet with three of USC's five dunks for the game coming in succession, two of them by the high-flying Julian Jacobs, late in the game to put down a final LMU charge.

And reward the fans as well. "We know it's a Wednesday night in LA," Andy Enfield said after his Trojans' third straight win -- and fourth in the last five games -- to improve to 5-3 after a shaky start. "I'm thankful for anybody that showed up."

And hopeful that more soon will. "If you build it, they will come," Enfield said. "We have to build it."

They're having to build it with the young guys -- although four of the first seven are sophomores. They're not that young. Old enough to know better this early in their careers and realize the ugly early losses to Portland State and Akron were unacceptable.

"We played six games in 11 days," Enfield said of that opening stretch. "We didn't have time to practice -- or catch our breath." Or catch the basketball, either after the Trojans averaged nearly 20 turnovers a game the first four times out.

Give much of the credit for the improvement to point guard Jordan McLaughlin. Enfield does after the second game in a row, "We had more assists (18) than turnovers (13)."

"He learned quickly you can't throw the ball all over the Galen Center, or wherever we're playing," Enfield said. You can't do that and beat anybody, that's for sure.

So USC's top recruit has settled down. He has 14 assiststs the last two games including that win in The Pit at New Mexico the Trojans still wanted to talk about after this game. "Nobody expected us to win there," Jacobs said of USC's 66-54 upset, "including some of our own players . . . That was a hige win . . . absolutely."

Of freshman point guard McLaughlin, who had seven assists and and three steals to go with his team-high 18 points on six of 10 shooting," He's natural leader, it's really easy to play with him."

"We're better in transition," Enfield said of his team that outscored LMU 17-4 on fastbreak points on the way to a season-high 77 points. "Our man-to-man defense was great and we were able to get out in transition."

USC was also able to get 6-foot-10 freshman Malik Martin, out for two weeks with a bone contusion on his knee, back. He scored five points in 11 minutes. "Our best athlete at 6-10," Enfield said of Martin, whose knee he estimated is back to about 70 percent.

"USC has some nice pieces," LMU Coach Mike Dunlop said. "They'll grow as time goes on . . . SC's wings can shoot if they can continue to get open."

Reinhardt (three of five), McLaughlin and Jacobs (two of four each) combined for seven of 13 from three-point range. But other than Reinhardt's defense and McLaughlin's ballhandling, what Enfield wanted to talk about was their combined rebounding.

This is not going to be a great rebounding team, Enfield noted (USC had a 41-40 edge on the Lions) and "we need our guards to rebound." The nine for a foursome of them was "just OK," Enfield said.

This is a team that is going to look for help wherever it can find it. And with this team, that's with the three -- sometimes four -- freshmen who are playing right away and USC will live or die with them.

"That's why we recruited them," Enfield said. "We lost a couple of games early playing freshmen but your players have to play. That's why they're here."

And Enfield hopes, if they get good enough fast enough, why there will be more than 2,537 in Galen Center some day.

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