It took 60 minutes, but the USC Trojans proved they deserve your respect.
USC (14-3, 3-1) knocked off No. 7 Arizona, 103-101, in four overtimes behind Elijah Stewart's game-high 27 points, including a pair of free throws with 22 seconds remaining to push the Trojans ahead for good after nine lead changes and 12 ties.
At the end of regulation and in each of the previous three overtime periods, Arizona had tied the game in the final 32 seconds, but after Stewart's free throws, the Trojans' defense held strong. Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs both tipped the ball away from Arizona's Gabe York, forcing him to give the ball up to Kadeem Allen, whose three-point attempt at the buzzer clanked away.
"It was just one great college basketball game," USC head coach Andy Enfield said.
In front of the largest Galen Center crowd this season (6,854), the Trojans earned their first win over a top 10 team since beating No. 10 Arizona on Feb. 24, 2011. Led by Stewart, USC had five players in double figures. Jacobs scored 18 points and had nine assists, a career-high seven steals and six rebounds. Nikola Jovanovic and McLaughlin both scored 17 points and Bennie Boatwright had 15.
Arizona also had five players in double figures. Freshman Allonzo Trier led the way with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting. After having only 12 points in regulation, York finished with 21 points while Kaleb Tarczewski, Dusan Rustic and Allen each scored between 12-16 points.
Both teams shot really well from the floor with Arizona shooting a season high for a USC opponent at 49.4 percent while the Trojans shot 43 percent, including a sizzling 64.3 percent in a 45-point first half. The Trojans got outrebounded 49-40, but they forced 19 turnovers and USC scored 25 points off those mistakes. USC also made 26 of its 33 free throw attempts, including 16-of-18 in the overtime periods.
***The Trojans scored 100+ points for the fourth time this season. It is only the second time in USC basketball history the Trojans have accomplished that, along with Bob Boyd's 1974-75 squad.
Here's three takeaways from USC's thrilling victory at the Galen Center Saturday evening:
USC's social media accounts have been using the #ItTakeATeam hashtag for the hoops team and that's been very accurate this season. USC leading scorer Katin Reinhardt was just 1-for-3 from the floor and had more turnovers than points (3:2), and yet the Trojans scored 103 points to knock off Arizona. How does that happen?
"Everybody is key on this team. [Elijah Stewart] came off the bench and did his thing tonight. The next time it might be somebody else," Jordan McLaughlin said. "When someone is struggling, like KR was a little bit tonight, everybody does other different things when they're not going correctly. We all credit each other. When one person is not going, the other person has to pick them up."
Stewart did that dropping 27 points off the bench to equal a career high for the third time. He made nine of his 13 shots, including 5-of-8 three-pointers. He scored USC's final four points. With two minutes to go in the fourth overtime and the shot clock winding down, Stewart drove from the top of the key down the right side of the lane and made a running layup off the glass while falling away from the basket.
After Arizona tied the game with two free throws with 51 seconds left, Stewart again saved the Trojans at the end of the shot clock. Stewart corralled a blocked shot, took two dribbles away from the basket and tried to put up a shot at the buzzer, but was fouled by a smothering Justin Simon. Stewart calmly knocked down both of his free throw attempts.
"Just blank out. Let muscle memory kick in...and I hit them."
Been There Before
Last year, USC had a number of close games and lost nearly all of them. The Trojans lost 11 games by eight points or fewer. They lost to Army in overtime. They lost in triple overtime to Colorado. But they pulled away in the final minute against Arizona State on Thursday and then beat No. 7 Arizona in quadruple overtime. How does that happen?
"Just staying together," Elijah Stewart said. "I was having flashbacks to the Colorado game [last year] to be honest. But this is a new team, we stuck together and just played off each other and got each other through certain parts."
The 2014-15 season was a rough year for everyone in the program, but it was the learning experience that the Trojans needed. USC lost by 24 and 28 to Utah, who was ranked No. 11 and No. 10 when they played. The Trojans also lost big to No. 7 Arizona.
"Last year, they beat us by 30. We're a much better basketball team than last year. A lot of the same players but they have improved and they've grown up and now we're a pretty good team," Andy Enfield said. "That was tremendous resiliency on our players' parts to battle and finally win a game in four overtimes."
That's the prompt in the video game classic Mortal Kombat series after beating an opponent. Apparently, the current crop of Trojans didn't play enough video games growing up. For the third time in four Pac-12 games, USC opened up a double-digit lead only to watch the other team whittle it away. Arizona State missed its opportunity to tie the game, but Arizona did not.
USC let a 12-point lead slip away in the final 5:33, making just one field goal and allowing the Wildcats to finish regulation on a 14-2 run to force the first overtime. In the final two minutes, the Trojans allowed two tip-ins by Kaleb Tarczewski and had a bad turnover by Jordan McLaughlin throwing into traffic into the lane. Nikola Jovanovic also missed an easy layup at the front of the rim that he probably should have dunked. The mistakes were small, but they added up. How does that happen?
"That's a good question," McLaughlin said. "Not saying we let up, but they hit a couple of hard baskets in the paint and we stopped following the game plan for a little bit."
Julian Jacobs had an opportunity to be the hero at the end of regulation, but he missed a shot in the lane and after getting his own rebound he missed a jumper.
In the first overtime, a Tarczewski tip-in tied the game with five seconds remaining. Jacobs' third game-winning attempt ended with an offensive foul as he flipped up a shot attempt. Out of a timeout in the second overtime, Jacobs drove the right baseline in the waning seconds and tried to fire a pass to Elijah Stewart that was intercepted with five seconds left. The third overtime, USC put the ball in its other lead guard's hands. Following Gabe York's tying basket with 16 seconds to go, McLaughlin shot the potential game winner, but the shot clanked off the rim as the final horn sounded.
With no one capable of hitting the last shot, USC used its defense to secure the victory in the fourth overtime. After McLaughlin knocked the ball away from York initially, the Trojans attacked him with multiple defenders. Jacobs tipped the ball away a second time. York recovered and was able to get the ball to Kadeem Allen, but he unsuccessfully tried to draw a foul and missed his shot to give USC the win.
The Trojans head on the road on Wednesday, but get to stay in town as they travel across town to Pauley Pavilion. USC and UCLA renew the Crosstown Showdown at 8 p.m. The Bruins are 11-6 after also beating Arizona and Arizona State this week.