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USC hopes to find the consistent scorer as crucial stretch of schedule awaits

USC hopes to find the consistent scorer as crucial stretch


The bricks piled up in painful succession, another late slump striking at the most unfortunate moment for USC.

A botched drive. A blocked lay-in. An airball in the lane. One three-pointer clanked … then another … and another. A late six-point advantage over Arizona, the Pac-12 leader, had suddenly evaporated, as USC missed 14 of its final 15 shots from the field, squandering a strong defensive effort to leave the desert last Saturday with a disappointing defeat, its fourth in 10 games.

“We just could not make a shot,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.

For the Trojans’ often uneven offense, the late-game lapse was hardly an isolated incident. In fact, each of USC’s four defeats during the past month have ended in similar slumps over the game’s final seven minutes.

In two losses to Stanford, USC went ice cold over that final seven minutes, shooting a combined five of 18. Against Oregon, the same stretch saw the Trojans knock down just five of their final 14. Add in USC’s dismal perimeter work late against Arizona on Saturday, and its combined shooting percentage dipped to a paltry 23.4% during the final seven minutes of its four defeats.

It’s a potentially concerning pattern for a team with aspirations of another deep tournament run this season — and with the toughest stretch of its schedule ahead in the coming weeks. Where the Trojans had a clutch, crunch-time scorer in Tahj Eaddy to help carry the load late during last March’s magical run to the Elite Eight, no USC player has emerged in that role this season. At least, not regularly.

Enfield is quick to clarify he believes USC has plenty of scorers capable of stepping up, if needed. The problem is they haven’t always done so consistently this season.

That was rarely a question last season with Eaddy, whose miraculous corner three against UCLA with 1.4 seconds remaining gave USC its fourth straight win in the crosstown rivalry last March. Before Eaddy, it was Jonah Mathews who regularly came alive late, even hitting a buzzer-beater to beat UCLA the year before.

Neither of those two USC teams had reached 19 wins by this point in the season. But with another crucial crosstown matchup with UCLA waiting at the end of this week, it’s not certain yet who this Trojans offense can count on late. That could be a problem in the postseason.

“We’ll find out,” Enfield said. “We need some of our players to make big shots at the end of games.”

For Boogie Ellis, big shots have always come second nature. The Trojans point guard and San Diego native says he’s never missed one with the clock running down at the end of a game.

USC guard Boogie Ellis shoots past Arizona State guard DJ Horne during the first half on Thursday in Tempe, Ariz.

(Matt York / Associated Press)

“I mean, I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Ellis said. “So I definitely feel like that’s one of my roles they can look for me to do on this team.”

It was Ellis who put Arizona State away from the free-throw line last Thursday, sinking five of six from the stripe in the final 45 seconds to hang onto a lead. A dunk from Ellis in the final seconds further punctuated a hard-fought win in which he led the way with 21.

But against Arizona, Ellis was held in check, shooting only three of 12. His lay-in with 3:58 was the only perimeter score USC could muster in the final seven minutes.

He wasn’t the only one. Isaiah Mobley missed his final four shots during that stretch, as USC turned to its leading scorer in hopes of igniting the offense.

Mobley has shown a willingness recently to shoulder a bigger role on USC’s offense. He’s taken 14 or more shots in each of his last three games — a total he’d reached only four other times this season.

It was Mobley who hit a three-pointer with two minutes remaining against the Sun Devils, setting up Ellis to put them away from the free-throw line.

It could be a combination of both keeping the Trojans afloat late when, in the coming weeks, another slump inevitably threatens to sink them.





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