No. 17 USC hosts Arizona State with eyes on Pac-12 title

NCAA

Boasting its best ranking this late into a season since 1991-92, No. 17 USC begins a three-game homestand on Wednesday when it welcomes Arizona State to Los Angeles.

The Trojans (17-3, 11-2 Pac-12) extended their current winning streak to six games with a dominant road swing through Washington over the weekend. USC cruised past Washington on Thursday, 69-54, then held off Washington State on Saturday, 76-65.

USC had moved into a tie with rival UCLA for the conference lead on Feb. 6, but the Bruins’ loss at Washington State last week gave the Trojans sole possession of first place.

While USC enjoys its highest ranking at this juncture in a season since the Harold Miner-led 1992 team, the Trojans also are vying for another goal the program has not reached since 1985: a regular-season conference title.

The pursuit of a Pac-12 championship has been the byproduct of a largely new-look USC roster meshing. At the forefront is center Evan Mobley, a 5-star recruit averaging team-highs of 16.6 points and nine rebounds per game.

Combined with brother Isaiah Mobley, one of the few holdovers from last season’s 22-win team, Evan Mobley has helped bolster the Trojans’ stifling defense. USC is holding opponents to 37.8 percent shooting, fourth-lowest in the nation.

The Trojans average blocked shots on 14.8 percent of defensive possessions, per KenPom.com metrics, and Evan Mobley’s 3.1 blocks per game set the pace.

Another newcomer, meanwhile, is taking up offensive responsibilities. Santa Clara transfer guard Tahj Eaddy scored a season-high 29 points at Washington State, and heads into Wednesday’s Arizona State matchup with 69 points over the last four games.

“Tahj is spectacular,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “He shot 3s. He put the ball on the floor. He pulled up from mid-range. He just controlled the game.

Eaddy played a strong, all-around game in USC’s 73-64 win at Arizona State on Jan. 9, recording 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists. His scoring output came despite an 0-of-6 3-point shooting performance.

The Sun Devils (7-9, 4-6) returned last weekend from a COVID-19 protocol-forced hiatus, splitting a home series with Oregon and Oregon State.

Remy Martin with 23 points was one of four Arizona State scorers in double-figures in a 75-73 win over Oregon State on Sunday. Martin, who did not play in the first meeting with USC, is averaging 19.2 points per game.

Absences from the lineup have been standard for Arizona State throughout a trying season. The Sun Devils were without Marcus Bagley, Josh Christopher, Taeshon Cherry and Pavlo Dziuba against Oregon State.

“I feel good about how the team is learning to win these close games,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “We’ve done it three of the last four. We did the things necessary to get the victory so it’s a good feeling.”

Arizona State’s current stretch of winning three of its past four snapped a six-game losing skid.

–Field Level Media

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