Funny what happens when you start playing defense. Offense happens, that's what.
When you're a full-court transition team that "can score points in a hurry," a relieved Andy Enfield said after USC's 79-72 win over Colorado to extend its unbeaten home streak to a USC-record 15 Wednesday, you score them off your defense.
Which is why USC was on pace for a 59-point game with 8:59 left and down 15. No defense. No rebounding. Nothing in the paint. Not much on the perimeter as the Buffaloes were jamming the ball down the Trojans' throat or shooting over them.
And for those who think the stroke of genius for Enfield was to switch to a zone that unbelievable as it may sound, allowed USC to not only stop the penetrating CU guards, it "let us block out better," Andy said. Not sure if we've ever heard that before. Go to a zone. Start rebounding better.
No the genius move here was getting USC to play any sort of defense.
But maybe that's par for the course for this unpredictable Trojans team that improved to 19-7 overall and at 8-5 in the league, jumped a half-game ahead of Colorado into the No. 3 spot in the Pac-12. Kind of a big deal, Andy said, since these teams play just once. So in case of ties . . . .
Not that USC, with five games left -- three at home with a Utah team that's tied with USC (at least until Thursday night's game at UCLA) -- had better worry about anything except Utah coming in here Sunday afternoon (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Probably better not get down 15 to the Utes is all we're saying. Probably better to start out playing defense. Because if you want to score at the 59-points-per-game pace USC played at the first 31:01 Wednesday, then by all means don't defend, don't rebound and for gosh sakes, when you do neither, don't get any fast break points.
Or not many. USC had four in the first half. Four. The long, athletic, fast-flying Trojans scored two fast break baskets in 20 minutes playing their ole' defense. And they were outrebounded 23-11.
Something had to change. And while the rebounding might not be fixable with this group, some other things were. Like -- as we keep saying -- the DEFENSE.
And again, it's not that the switch to a zone was the magic ingredient. It was the ability, the desire, to play any defense. Pick one. Play it. Life is much more fun on the basketball court when you do.
Just ask anyone in the late-arriving crowd of 5,132 about that. They had a hell of a time that last 8:59 for that 34-12 USC run.
And sure, the questions are often about offense. "What were you thinking on that dunk?" was the first one for the acrobatic Julian Jacobs. "Which one," he asked back.
Which one, indeed. Not a question he could have asked until that final run. But by the end of this one, USC had 22 points (to 13 for Colorado) off turnovers including an 18-2 edge the second half. That led to a 32-22 edge on points in the paint and a 12-3 advantage in fast break points against a Colorado team that scored not a single break point after intermission.
Taking the stats even further. The Trojans had 13 steals (five for Jacobs, three for leading scorer Jordan McLaughlin), who hit five straight shots for 11 of his game-high 25 points in the come-from-behind run to CU's three.
The turnover numbers -- 20 for Colorado, just 11 for USC -- might say it all. On this night, USC both took care of -- and took away -- the basketball.
For the game, the athletic Trojans also had seven blocked shots to the Buffs' four. And most of those numbers came in those frenetic final minutes when USC played DEFENSE -- and converted that effort to easy scores the other way.
By our reckoning, that 26-point turnaround -- from down 15 to up 11 with 1:09 to go had USC on pace offensively for a 160-point game had they done that for a full 40 minutes. Not bad for a team that was on pace for 59 after the first 31:01."A big win for us," Enfield said. He "didn't know if the zone would be effective," but USC had to try something, he said. Their man-to-man was nonexistent. "We know we have some youth and weaknesses and we have some strengths," Andy said, "and we'll play to our strengths."
Wednesday night that strength was 8:59 of defense. And the easy, fun, run-and-gun baskets that came as a result. But it wasn't all happy talk after the game.
"We gave this one to them," a disgruntled CU coach Tad Boyle said, not about to pass out any praise USC's way. "We had this game," which the Buffs certainly did. And then they didn't.
"We played good for 33 minutes of the game and that's not good enough," Boyle said. "I did an absolutely terrible job coaching this team . . . People always ask about why teams are different on the road and it's all between the ears. We're not mentally tough enough to handle the noise and the crowds . . . we're not good enough."
USC knows that feeling. On this night, the Trojans were home. And the building crowd by the end sounded like it had transformed itself into a real homecourt advantage, a difference-maker. Andy thanked them for that.
And then asked if maybe without the rain and with a day time start Sunday, they'd mind doubling up their numbers for the Utes in a game that could get USC back to No. 2.
And while he didn't promise it, you know he's thinking it. This time we're planning to play defense in the first half. When this team does, it becomes the "score-more" bunch.
And then they're fun to watch. Even if that's just for 8:59. This team is good enough to make that work for it if it has to. Although maybe they could figure out how to do that just a tad earlier Sunday. And not send an opponent out of here talking to itself about the one that got away.
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