On Monday night, the USC men’s and women’s basketball teams both showed that this could be a special year at the Galen Center. With each team’s breakout star struggling, the Trojans and the Women of Troy still found ways to improve to 4-0 on the season.
The USC men cruised to a 96-61 win over CSUN at the Galen Center even though sophomore wing Elijah Stewart, who entered as the Trojans’ second leading scorer at 17.3 points per game, struggled. Soon after, the Women of Troy pulled out a 78-67 overtime win on a neutral court in Spokane, Wash. after a back-and-forth regulation, and they did it without much production from junior guard Jordan Adams.
Stewart has been USC’s top target on the wing this season and the beneficiary of the attention a healthy Jordan McLaughlin has attracted. But he was off-target on Monday night. Stewart missed his first five shots. He wasn’t getting his legs into his jumper and his attempts were coming up short. He was scoreless in the first half. Yet, USC still scored 46 points and surged ahead for a 20-point halftime lead.
He finished with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting and had just one rebound after averaging 6.0 in the first three games. But unlike last year when someone had an off night and it became contagious, Stewart’s teammates picked him up.
Katin Reinhardt was fire hot off the bench. He scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 5-of-8 from beyond the three-point line where he made his first four attempts. Nikola Jovanovic notched his second double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds; Bennie Boatwright added 12 points despite shooting 1-for-6 on three-point attempts; and Julian Jacobs filled up the stat sheet, per the usual, with 11 rebounds and 10 assists to go along with six points.
Jacobs wasn’t the only player distributing the ball. The Trojans had an assist on each of the first 11 made buckets and ended the game with 26 assists as a team — the most they have had since 2005 and just four off the school record. For the season, they are averaging 19 per game.
“We played great team basketball tonight. Our guards are playing at a high level,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said in the post-game news conference. “They are moving the ball and making open shots because we’re getting open shots. Jordan is a big catalyst for that.”
McLaughlin just continued what he has been doing all season, leading USC in scoring for the fourth straight game. He made seven of his 10 shots and scored a game-high 20 points while dishing out six assists. With him creating for himself and his teammates, USC flirted with reaching triple digits for the second time this season and second time in Galen Center history. The Trojans settled for a 35-point victory and 96 points to push its season average to 92.5.
“This is a while different team than last year,” Reinhardt said. “We’re playing better team basketball. It’s showing. You can see how much better the ball moves and we’re scoring more points.”
As the men found a way to win without Stewart playing great, the Women of Troy did a similar job picking up Adams in its win over West Virginia. The dynamic 6-foot-1 guard entered averaging a double-double, but shot only 1-for-9 from the field and finished with three points and five rebounds.
Without her usual production, USC went with an inside-outside attack that focused on getting the ball in the post to Kristen Simon and Temi Fagbenle with kickouts to the team’s best shooter, Courtney Jaco, for 3-pointers. Simon scored seven of her 13 points in overtime and added eight boards. Fagbenle recorded the first double-double of her USC career while setting USC career highs with 20 points (8-for-14) and 14 rebounds. She also added two blocks and three steals. Jaco also set career highs with 20 points and six made three-point baskets in a game that featured 14 lead changes and 11 ties, but was never in doubt in overtime as the Women of Troy pulled away for the win. They improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1993-94 when Lisa Leslie was dominating the paint.
They will try to keep the Trojan hoops programs unbeaten on Tuesday when they conclude their Naismith Hall of Fame Challenge trip to Spokane with a challenging game against the host Gonzaga Bulldogs (4-1). The men also have their toughest opponent of the young season up next. The Trojans travel to Orlando, Fla. for the AdvoCare Invitational where they will face off against No. 20 Wichita State in the opening round.
The Shockers are coming off back-to-back standout seasons with a 35-1 record and a trip to the Final Four in 2013 followed by a Sweet 16 run last season. With Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker back, this year’s team had the potential to make another run in the NCAA Tournament, but the Trojans may be getting them at the right time. Wichita State is 2-1 on the season, having lost to Tulsa last week and is likely to be without its top two ball handlers as All-American candidate VanVleet and backup point guard Landry Shamet are expected to miss the Thanksgiving morning game. Regardless, it should be a great litmus test to provide a glimpse of just where the Trojans stand in the national landscape early in the year.