The preseason media polls sometimes get it right and sometimes don't. So when USC basketball traveled to Pullman Friday night to take on Washington State, it may have been an unattractive matchup between the teams picked to finish last and No. 10 in the conference.
The Trojans did their part to make the preseason rankings come true with a 90-77 win over the Cougars at Beasley Coliseum. But the win was more than just following media predictions. USC showed what its explosive playmaking ability and did it on the road. For only the second time under Andy Enfield, the Trojans won a Pac-12 road game.
They started the conference schedule off the right way, improving to 12-2 and showing that they can play outside the Galen Center. Nikola Jovanovic notched his fifth double-double of the season and led USC with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Jordan McLaughlin added 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting as five USC players scored in double figures with another pair of Trojans scoring at least eight points. As a team, the Trojans shot 52.9 percent, including knocking down half of their three-point attempts (8-for-16).
USC opened up a 25-point led in the first half and never looked back. Washington State (8-5, 0-1) tried to cut into the lead with a late run, but it wasn't enough.
Josh Hawkinson recorded his eighth straight double-double for the Cougars with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Ike Iroegbu was the only other Cougar in double figures, scoring 13 points with five assists, but he did have four turnovers.
Here's three takeaways from USC's win on the road Friday night:
With two years of Pac-12 road woes resting on their shoulders, the Trojans shrugged those off with a quickness in the first half. They raced out to a lead as big as 25 points, scoring 54 points in the first 20 minutes. The Trojans opened the game with a 10-4 advantage and later used a 17-2 run to push their lead to more than 20 points.
USC did it with offense, shooting 58 percent, including five-of-nine on 3-pointers, but they also did it with their defense. Before a 10-2 Washington State run to end the half, the Cougars had only 25 points in the first 16 1/2 minutes. They shot less than 40 percent and made only one of six three-point attempts.
Jordan McLaughlin and Nikola Jovanovic led the way in the first 20 minutes. They combined to score 30 points on 13-of-14 shooting.
Dunk You Very Much
Against Washington State, USC went ahead and logged some clips for the end-of-the-year highlight reel. The Trojans' defense created turnovers and then they were able to turn those into highlights
"That's what we've focused on all year," Jordan McLaughlin said to the Pac-12 Networks after the game. "What we want to do is get steals and get blocked shots and get out and run on offense."
In the second half, Julian Jacobs got past some extended pressure, drove ino the lane and threw down a two-handed slam when no one stepped up to make him give up the basketball. Bennie Boatwright also set up fellow freshman Chimezie Metu with an alley-oop on a fast break.
But it was a first half sequence that dropped jaws. With USC leading 29-12, Elijah Stewart jumped in front of an outlet pass attempt by Josh Hawkinson. Even though he had the option of dropping a pass off to Jacobs, Stewart went up and challenged Hawkinson. Trying to protect the rim, Hawkinson got posterized and then got the additional gift of a swinging Stewart hit him in the face with his groin as he was hanging from the rim.
As impressive as that dunk was, Jacobs may have topped him with a high-flying reverse coming off a turnover on the next bucket. Then Metu got into the act with a flush of his own:
Not a Complete 40
USC played well. There's no doubting that. But the Trojans didn't come close to playing a complete game. That may be the most impressive part of their first Pac-12 road win. This team now has so much talent that it is able to beat the conference's lower-tier teams with one strong half and one alright half.
After dominating the first 16 minutes, USC allowed Washington State to end the first half on a 10-2 run. In the second half, the Trojans held the lead around the 20-point mark for the first 10-12 minutes, but then let the Cougars chip away, trimming the lead to as few as 12 points before eventually holding on for the 13-point win.
But the positive is that the Trojans know when they don't play to their potential.
"We came out lackaidaisical in the second half. They went on a run. That's a credit to them. We've just got to stay locked in for the whole 40 minutes," McLaughlin said after the game.
Rather than being upbeat about the victory, letting Washington State crawl back into the game was still bothering McLaughlin after the game in his Pac-12 Networks interview and that's a good thing. This team has bigger aspirations than just winning, which hasn't been the case in recent memory.
The Trojans have a day off before traveling across the Evergreen State to Seattle where they will take on Washington. The Huskies entered the day 8-4 with a late matchup against No. 25 UCLA. The Huskies were picked to finish next to last in the Pac-12 thanks to a young roster, but they have a good amount of talent led by the Pac-12's top scorer, Andrew Andrews, who averaged 19.7 points in non-conference play.