The state of Oregon hasn't been kind to USC basketball in the recent past and that continued over the weekend as the Trojans lost to both Oregon and Oregon State.
The Trojans may have snapped a seven-year hiatus from the AP top 25 poll last week, entering the weekend ranked No. 21, but they couldn't snap a pair of losing streaks to the Oregon schools.
The Ducks claimed their 11th consecutive victory over USC, winning 89-81 on Thursday night at Matthew Knight Arena. The Beavers compounded the Trojans' woes with an 85-70 thumping for a seventh straight victory over USC in Corvallis, Ore.
The Trojans had issues on both ends of the court and were abused by an opposing senior in both games. Elgin Cook scored a season-high 26 points for Oregon, adding five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block. Oregon State guard Gary Payton II produced an even more impressive all-around game. The son of an NBA legend looked like a professional playing against amateurs with 22 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and a block.
USC (15-5, 4-3) freshman forward Bennie Boatwright had a career-high 23 points and a career-high 12 rebounds against Oregon, but struggled against Oregon State as did nearly the entire Trojans roster.
Here's three takeaways from USC's poor road showing in the state of Oregon:
No Knockdown = No Beuno
To win games, the Trojans have to knock down shots. There's no way around it. In Andy Enfield's drive-and-kick offense, the Trojans need creative ballhandlers and guys that can hit open looks. That didn't happen this weekend. Throughout the season, USC has shot worse on the road than at home and this weekend was the most poignant example.
Against Oregon, USC has a respectable 43.9 field goal percentage, but made just 8-of-28 three-point attempts. The Trojans were even worse against the Beavers, making just 6-of-24 shots from beyond the arc. Bennie Boatwright, who is one of the Trojans' biggest offensive weapons because of his pick-and-pop ability at the 4 position, was 3-for-9 against the Ducks, but only 1-for-6 on Sunday afternoon. Jordan McLaughlin was a combined 1-for-9; Katin Reinhardt was 4-for-14; and Elijah Stewart was 4-for-12 total. That means none of USC's top shooters equaled the 41 percent the team had been shooting on the season entering the weekend.
If the Trojans want to potentially make some noice in March, both in Las Vegas and a postseason tournament, they have to find a way to shoot better outside the confines of the Galen Center.
Lost in Oregon Forests
While the guards' shooting was woeful, the big men seemed to disappear in the trees of the forest, especially in the Oregon State game. Nikola Jovanovic entered averaging more than 12 points per game. He had 13 total in the two games. Like many of the big men, he saw his fair share of foul trouble and he played passive at times.
Coming off the most impressive game of his young career, Chimezie Metu managed just five points and two rebounds against Oregon's athletic front line and couldn't finish in the paint well against Oregon State, finishing 3-for-7 and being stripped of the ball twice for turnovers on potential jams. Of course, he could have had his shot swatted, which seemed to be the case everytime Darion Clark had the ball. He was 1-for-5 on the trip with a missed tip-in, a missed layup and two shots blocked.
As a team, USC was outscored in the paint, 43-30, against the Ducks. But that was nothing compared to the 50-24 discrepency the Beavers held over the Trojans in the paint.
***It should be noted that Malik Martin played against Oregon State -- his first action in four games since playing two minutes in the Arizona State game. He scored four points in four minutes and was actually the only USC player with a positive +/- rating.
Lead Guards Have to Lead
USC is one of the most dangerous and explosive teams in the nation...when Julian Jacobs and Jordan McLaughlin are playing well. When Florida Gulf Coast made its Sweet 16 run under Andy Enfield, Brett Comer was directing the offense and tossing alley-oop passes for throwdowns while Bernard Thompson was capable of driving to the basket or knocking down shots.
Enfield's offense is led by its guards. They create and make the offense go. Jacobs and McLaughlin have been very good at that this season, which is why they have been near the top of the Pac-12 in assists per game all season. But neither was great this weekend. The offense wasn't efficient and managed only 0.864 points per possession against Oregon State.
Jacobs made some uncharacteristic mistakes. He lost his cool and picked up a technical when the Trojans were trying to keep pace with Oregon late Thursday night. He allowed Gary Payton II to swipe the ball away from him and set up a fast break while he was trying to argue with the referees against Oregon State. He then picked up his second foul on the play and had to sit the rest of the first half. Jacobs' primary numbers looked good against Oregon: 18 points, six rebounds, five assists; and alright against Oregon State: 10 points, six assists and the only Trojan to shoot above 50 percent. But he produced some of the worst +/- numbers. Oregon was +11 when Jacobs was on the floor while the Beavers were +19!
It didn't help Jacobs that he was often playing with the shadow of McLaughlin. That's essentially all McLaughlin provided this weekend. He obviously was not himself. Though he had a couple of nice driving baskets, his shot was way off. He airballed multiple shots and barely grazed the rim on others.
McLaughlin looked sluggish and didn't have the explosive step that allows him to go by defenders. After the Oregon State game, Enfield revealed to Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times that McLaughlin hadn't healed from his sickness that had been bothering him since early last week before the UCLA game:
Jordan McLaughlin scored just six points with one assist. The trip was his worst of the season. After the game, Enfield revealed why.
"He had a fever for eight days coming into this trip," Enfield said.
At the end of the first half, McLaughlin was hit in the eye. He crumpled to the court. Enfield said McLaughlin, who broke his nose previously this season, suffered a black eye, but he did return for the second half.
To be successful, the Trojans need a healthy McLaughlin and a healthy and under control Jacobs. If you want to include McLaughlin not being 100 percent over the weekend, all of USC's losses have come when either he or Jacobs hasn't been healthy.
USC returns home where the Trojans will try to remain unbeaten. They take on Washington State on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. PST with the game being televised on the Pac-12 Networks. USC beat the Cougars, 90-77, earlier this month.