LOS ANGELES — Midway through the first half, the USC student section at the Galen Center began lifting their arms in anticipation every time guard Boogie Ellis went into his shooting motion.
And for the most part, the Memphis transfer obliged, with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting in a 93-73 victory over Utah in the Trojans’ Pac-12 opener on Wednesday night.
“When he gets hot, he gets hot,” guard Max Agbonkpolo said of Ellis. “When he gets hot, we try to give him the ball as much as we can because if we can keep on scoring off him, everything will work out.”
The game quickly got out of hand at the end of the first half as the Trojans closed on a 23-7 run before heading to the locker room, finishing 13 for 14 from the field. The Utes were short-handed upon arrival in L.A. with eight scholarship players available, and it only got worse when forward Branden Carlson left with a leg injury.
But fully healthy or not, it might not have mattered with the way No. 20 USC, and Ellis specifically, shot the ball on Wednesday.
As the Trojans (7-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) put some distance between themselves and the visitors, Ellis was in the middle of it all. He howled at the student section after a steal and one-handed dunk. That was soon followed by an Isaiah Mobley layup off the glass to push USC’s lead to eight and force a Utah timeout.
That did little to help the Utes (5-2, 0-1) regroup, and soon Ellis hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then stole a pass from Rollie Worster and took it the distance for another tomahawk dunk to push USC’s lead to 17 with 1:14 left in the half, the crowd of 3,754 rollicking with every bucket and steal.
“It’s extremely fun, especially after a year of (what) I call silence,” Mobley said. “Everyone’s happy and we’re trying to keep it that way and we’re trying to build on that momentum.”
Ellis finished the first half with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
It wasn’t entirely Ellis’ show. Mobley had an easy time scoring with post moves and hook shots to the tune of a team-high 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Drew Peterson had a couple of nice spin moves on drives to the paint to free himself up for easy layups. Joshua Morgan added four blocked shots off the bench.
And the Trojans did what they do best, namely defend and rebound. USC held Utah to a 1-for-7 start from the floor and the Utes went 11 for 37 in the first half.
Meanwhile, USC won the rebounding battle 51-32, Mobley leading the team with a career-high 13 for his second double-double in as many games. The junior forward also added two of USC’s nine blocked shots.
“He was a complete player tonight,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “It was great to see.”
When the Trojans went without a field goal for 4:08 in the second half and the Utes got within 16, Enfield inserted Ellis back into the game. Ellis promptly dribbled around a screen at the top of the arc and calmly sank a deep 3-pointer.
Still, USC was having trouble closing out the Utes as it missed 10 second-half free throws and allowed Utah guard Both Gach to score a career-high 28.
But Mobley put the game away with five straight points and a blocked shot to set up an Ellis lob to Agbonkpolo, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half to help close it out.
“We withstood it, and we shared the ball on offense and we did what we had to do,” Enfield said.
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