With six minutes remaining, the 6,387 fans at Galen Center sensed a potential case of déja vu. Washington had used a 10-2 run to trim a 13-point USC lead down to five points. The Trojans hadn't scored a field goal in more than three and a half minutes.
Things were set up for the Huskies to finish strong and win in a similar fashion to the 87-85 victory they took in Seattle earlier this month. They finished with one point more than they had in that matchup, but the difference was they couldn't stop USC.
"If you give USC an inch they’re going to take a mile and that’s what they did tonight," Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar said. "They’re a very explosive basketball team. Every time we made a mistake they made us pay for it.”
On USC's next possession, Julian Jacobs drove the right side and scored his only bucket of the game to end Washington's run. It started a run of the Trojans (17-5, 6-3) making four of their next six shots. They also finished the game making 11 of their final 12 free throw attempts to win 98-88 Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center.
"We remained poised. We understood what we went through up there," USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin said. "Yesterday in practice...we really emphasized all of our mistakes we made up there."
Nikola Jovanovic dominated down low for the Trojans. He scored a season-high 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. Five USC players scored double figures with McLaughlin contributing 21 points in his best game since getting sick two weeks ago. Bennie Boatwright scored 15 with eight rebounds. Katin Reinhardt had 11 points -- all in the second half and Elijah Stewart added 10.
"That first loss really hurt us because we were up by 22 and somehow managed to lose the game," Jovanovic said. "It was a big learning experience for us. We were thinking about this game all the time."
Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray led Washington with 18 points each. USC held the Huskies to 36.4 percent shooting, but they put up 19 more shots than the Trojans thanks to 18 offensive rebounds and a +6 turnover margin.
USC shot 51.7 percent, including an astounding 65.2 in the second half, and improved to 6-0 when shooting 50 percent or better. The Trojans are also 15-1 this season when outshooting their opponent.
Here's three takeaways from USC getting a revenge victory over Washington to move a half-game back of Oregon for first place in the Pac-12:
Washington's baby lineup of four freshmen is led by dynamic senior Andrew Andrews. The Pac-12's top scorer, averaging 21.3 points per game and 23.6 per game in conference play. With the way the Pac-12 refs call the games, Andrews has made a living by driving into the lane and getting fouled. He leads the nation in free throws attempted and is second in free throws made. He entered the game averaging nearly 10 free throw attempts per game. And when you shoot 84.2 percent (second-best in the Pac-12), that becomes a tough weapon to contain.
That's why Andrews is the sugar-filled kid on the bumper cars at Six Flags. He is constantly searching for contact when he has the ball in his hands and more often than not he's got the calls this season. To counter that, the Trojans did a good job of bodying Andrews up instead of trying to use their forearm to check him and keep him from getting by them. Instead of being handsy and getting fouls called on drives, USC moved their feet and kept their body on him.
USC also keyed on Andrews with its help defense. The Trojans were willing to come off and leave open three-point shooters to keep Andrews from getting into the lane and drawing contact when he leaves his feet.
"Just contain him and stop penetration," McLaughlin said. "We worked all week on shrinking the gaps and making sure everybody is in help [position] that way he's not able to have as many driving lanes as he normally does."
To stop Andrews, the Trojans took the chance that Washington wouldn't be able to consistently knock down open shots and the gamble paid off as the Huskies took a whopping 32 three-point attempts but only made eight of them.
They call them free throws because they are free looks at the basket and should be free points. That hasn't been the case for USC this season. The Trojans entered today's game as the Pac-12's worst free throw shooting team making just 66.8 percent -- good for 262nd in the nation.
It is one of the oddest stats in the country considering the shooters USC has. The Trojans were making 46 percent of their field goals and 38.9 percent of threes and their head coach previously held the NCAA career free throw percentage record, making 92.5 percent at Johns Hopkins.
USC's free throw shooting was a big enigma, but something that definitely has hurt them in a couple of games. Saturday was not one of those. The Trojans were money from the charity stripe. USC produced its best free throw percentage of the season, making 32-of-37 attempts (86.5 percent). Jordan McLaughlin led the way making nine of 10. Bennie Boatwright fell one shy of that making eight of 10 while Nikola Jovanovic missed just one of his nine attempts.
The Trojans were able to lock up the game by converting on 11 of their last 12 freebie attempts.
Jordan McLaughlin looked like a completely different player than he had looked the three previous games. And though he said on Friday he still wasn't 100 percent, he looked like he was very close against Washington. He was active defensively, knocked down a couple of big three-pointers and was able to get in the lane frequently.
It was a retribution game of sorts for McLaughlin, who took the brunt of the blame for the loss to Washington earlier this season after having eight of the Trojans' 22 turnovers. Similar to the first game when he had 15/8/6, J-Mac put up good numbers across the board with 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.
"I'm don't know what it was, common cold, flu," McLaughlin said of his two-week illness, "but I'm feeling a lot better now."
The potentially first place Trojans (depending on Oregon's matchup at Arizona State on Sunday) remain at home and will host rival UCLA next week on Thursday. The Trojans have a chance to sweep the Crosstown Showdown for the first time since 2010. USC won at Westwood, 89-75, on Jan. 13. The Bruins are 12-9 on the season and have lost three of four heading into today's afternoon matchup with Washington State.
- USC’s 17-5 start is its best 22-game start since going 18-4 to start the 1992 season.
- The Trojans improved to 13-0 at home this season, its best home start since going 13-0 during the 1943 season at home.
- Washington's 36.4 percent shooting marks the ninth time this season USC has held an opponent to 40 percent or less shooting. They are 8-1 when doing so.
- USC had five players in double figures for the eighth time this season.
- In attendance for today's game:
- Actor Christian Bale, whose daughter performed at halftime with the Junior Song Girls.
- Lakers rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell
- Clippers guard CJ Wilcox (Washington)
- Bulls forward Taj Gibson (USC)
- Hornets forward Spencer Hawes (Washington) - Charlotte also was practicing at one of the upstairs courts in the Galen Center as the game was ending
- Jaguars linebacker Hayes Pullard (USC)
- USC football coach Clay Helton
- USC athletic director Pat Haden
- USC president Max Nikias