If you hear a long, low whistle that seems to be getting louder and louder as it gets closer and closer, it's the USC Trojans basketball season. Like a rocket shot into the sky, it's now running on low fuel and is tumbling from the sky at a rapid rate.
Thursday night did nothing to change the course or redirect that rocket that looks like it may soon crash to the ground. The Trojans bombed an opportunity to get a road victory and potentially get back on the right track, falling 84-64 to Stanford to lose their fourth game in the last three weeks.
Dorian Pickens nearly outscored USC in the first half, scoring 22 of his career-high 25 points in the first half, helping the Cardinal to a 43-25 halftime advantage that it rode to an easy 20-point victory. Katin Reinhardt made six of his 10 shots to lead USC with 14 points. Bennie Boatwright added 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting and Elijah Stewart had 10 points.
Here's three takeaways from USC's loss to the Cardinal on Thursday evening:
Beat By Backups
The Trojans had a great opportunity to take control of the game early after Stanford's leading scorer, Rosco Allen, picked up his second foul with barely two minutes elapsed. Instead, the Trojans couldn't knock down shots early and then couldn't stop the Cardinal once both teams started putting some points on the board.
USC head coach Andy Enfield switched up the starting lineup replacing Katin Reinhardt with Elijah Stewart. It had a positive impact as USC held a 14-11 lead after Stewart and Reinhardt (off the bench) combined to make their first five shots of the game. But when Stanford went to its bench, it found a combination the Trojans couldn't stop. Dorian Pickens averaged 2.0 points per game last year. He scored 20 more than that in the first half against USC. He and his other second team members slaughtered USC, going on a 29-6 run with the starters on the bench. Smartly, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins rode his backups since USC didn't have an answer.
The Cardinal routinely got clean looks and knocked them down, making seven first half three-point attempts while USC shot just 25.9 percent from the field in the first half. After Stewart and Reinhardt's early run, USC missed 16 of its next 18 shots. At the same time, Stanford's bench players made eight of nine field goals and a seemingly winnable road game for the Trojans quickly turned into a deflating blowout. While its starters had a +/- stat line of 2, -1, 1, 1, 2 at halftime, the Cardinal second team was +16, +17, +17, +19 and +16.
Where's the D?
You can't win on the road when the home team is allowed to shoot 47.4 percent that includes a pair of deflating runs of near perfection. Stanford made the aforementioned eight of nine field goals in the first half and then repeated that eight of nine field goal run early in the second half. When USC needed defensive stops in the second half to try to get back in the game, it allowed the Cardinal to make 51.9 percent of its shots. For the game, Stanford scored 1.24 points per possession.
Dorian Pickens dominated USC in the first half and then Rosco Allen took the torch in the second half, scoring all 17 of his points after the break. Michael Humphrey also came alive for 10 points in the second half while Marcus Allen added 15 points for the game.
The worst part was how many clean looks Stanford was able to get. USC wasn't interested in fighting through screens, staying with its man and contesting every shot. A second viewing of the game showed that Stanford attempted 28 contested shots while getting 29 clean or easy looks at the basket. The difference? Even though more of the shots were closer to the rim, Stanford made 11 of 28 contested shots (39.3 percent) and 16 of 29 (55.1 percent) when getting a clean attempt.
Martin Makes a Difference
While Katin Reinhardt shot well, finishing with 14 points on 60 percent shooting, the only player that had a significant impact was Malik Martin. Until the final two minutes of the game, the backup forward was the only Trojan with a positive +/- score. He finished with a season-high nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and actually brought energy and intensity -- something that was sorely missing from his teammates. Despite playing just 14 minutes, Martin also was tied for the team lead with five rebounds -- his second most in a game this season.
USC finally got things going offensively in the second half by attacking the middle of Stanford's 2-3 zone and that was most noticeable with Martin in the game. With the way USC has struggled with energy early in games, starting Martin, letting him go after the opening tip and having him give everything he has for two to three minutes wouldn't be a bad idea. With the way the Trojans have been playing, it couldn't be any worse than what continues to transpire early in games.
USC has two days to prepare for a trip to Haas Pavilion in Berkeley where California remains undefeated this season. The Golden Bears are one of the hottest teams on the West Coast and have moved into a tie for third place with Arizona, just one game back of first place in the conference standings. It took a little time, but Cal's dynamic freshman duo of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb is really coming into its own.