USC women’s track team wins 2nd NCAA outdoor title in 3 years

EUGENE, Ore. — USC’s Anna Cockrell won the 100- and 400-meter hurdles on Saturday at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, becoming just the second woman to pull off the double in those events and leading the Trojans to their second team title in three years.

“Ever since I came to college this was my dream honestly, to double. I know only one other person had done it before me,” Cockrell said. “I don’t think it has sunken all the way in yet, I finished my interview for 400 hurdles down there and then I burst into tears.”

USC had 11 athletes combine to earn 19 first-team All-America honors during the two days of competition, but the Trojans amassed all of their school-record 74 points on the second day.

USC’s 4×100 relay team of Jasmine Jones, Angie Annelus, Lanae-Tava Thomas and TeeTee Terry got the Trojans’ scoring started with a first-place time of 42.82 seconds, making USC the first team to repeat in the event since Texas A&M in 2013-14.

Next, Cockrell won the 100 hurdles title with a time of 12.58 (+0.4) to earn USC 10 points. She is USC’s first national champion in the event since Nia Ali in 2011 and also became the second Trojan to be a three-time All-American in the event, joining Virginia Crawford (Powell).

Terry took second in the 100 meters with a wind-aided PR of 10.79 (+2.2w) and Thomas was seventh with a time of 11.24 (+2.2w). Terry became USC’s highest finisher in the 100 since Angela Williams and Natasha Mayer went 1-2 in 2002 and joined Williams as the school’s only three-time All-American in the event. Williams won the event four years in a row from 1999-2002.

The Trojans then had Kyra Constantine finish third (50.87, PR), Nicole Yeargin fourth (51.02) and Bailey Lear seventh (51.36) in the 400, giving the Trojans 13 more points in the team competition.

Cockrell then defended her 2019 400 hurdles title by bettering her school record with a time of 54.68, becoming USC’s only four-time All-American in the event.

Terry then placed fifth in the 200 final with a time of 22.69 (+0.2) and injury-plagued Annelus took sixth with a time of 22.72 (+0.2) for seven more points.

Morgan Smalls placed fourth in the high jump with a collegiate-best clearance of 6 feet, ½-inches, the best finish ever by a Trojan in the event. Temi Ojora placed eighth in the triple jump at 44-4 (+1.00), a mark she reached twice during her attempts.

The Trojans had clinched the team title before the meet-ending 4×400 relay, but the quartet of Lear, Kaelin Roberts, Yeargin and Constantine ran the second-fastest time in school history (3:24.54) to earn eight more points.

Cambrea Sturgis of North Carolina A&T swept the women’s 100 and 200, taking the 100 in a wind-aided 10.74 seconds, the fastest all-weather time in NCAA history. She then ran the 200 in 22.12, a personal best.

North Carolina A&T was third in the 4×400 relay. The Aggies men also fared well at the meet, with Randolph Ross winning the 400 in 43.85 and a third-place team finish.

“We can go out there and do it if we put our minds to it,” she said about competing for the historically black college.

On Friday, LSU won its first men’s team title since 2002, while USC finished fifth. USC’s Isaiah Jewett (Cathedral High) set the school record (1:44.68) in becoming the Trojans’ first 800 champion. It was the fourth top-five team finish for the USC men in the seven NCAA championships with Caryl Smith Gilbert in charge of the program.

Davonte Burnett placed fifth in the 100 with a time of 10.19 (+0.4) and sixth in the 200 (20.55 (-0.4), while Cameron Samuel placed third in the 400 hurdles with a PR of 48.68. Earnest Sears III finished seventh in the high jump (7-2½).

USC’s 4×400 relay team of Nicholas Ramey, Brian Herron, Samuel and Jewett placed fourth in a season-best time of 3:02.49.

Other notable women’s performances on Saturday included …

• Texas A&M freshman Athing Mu won the 400 in 49.57, a national collegiate record.

• BYU senior Anna Camp won the 1,500 in a personal-best 4:08.53 ahead of a strong field that included Colorado’s Sage Hurta, the indoor mile champion who finished second.

“I knew Sage was crazy fast, so my goal was to sit on her shoulder for a lot of the 1,500 and win,” Camp said. “My legs felt good, I was just hopeful that I could outrun her through that push,” Camp said.

• Air Force’s Mahala Norris, who grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, won the steeplechase in 9:31.79. Also, North Carolina State’s Elly Henes won the 5,000 in 15:28.05, and Virginia’s Michaela Meyer took the 800 in a personal-best 2:00.28.

The NCAA championship was among the first major meets at Hayward Field since it underwent an extensive renovation. The U.S. Olympic team trials will be held there next week. Sturgis is among the college athletes hoping for a spot on the team for Tokyo.

🏆 𝐍𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍𝐀𝐋 𝐂𝐇𝐀𝐌𝐏𝐒! 🏆

The women of @USC_Track_Field bring home their 3rd team title, the 133rd national title in USC history!#FightOn | #NCAATF pic.twitter.com/lfSSpM88Y0

— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) June 13, 2021

𝟒𝟎𝟎𝐌 𝐇𝐔𝐑𝐃𝐋𝐄 𝐍𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍𝐀𝐋 𝐂𝐇𝐀𝐌𝐏!@AnnaCockrell48 becomes just the second female athlete to ever win the 100m and 400m hurdles at the same NCAA Championship!#FightOn | #NCAATFpic.twitter.com/N62Yi0Mgfl

— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) June 12, 2021

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Whicker: Another opponent disappears into USC’s zone of doom

  • Isaiah White #5 of the USC Trojans reacts in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against in the USC Trojans the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte (5) passes around Southern California guard Ethan Anderson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa, right, passes around Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) drives up court ahead of Oregon forward Chandler Lawson, right, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Isaiah White (5) drives to the basket past Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, left, fights for a rebound with Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, right, eyes a loose ball in front of Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte (5) shoots over Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte, center, shoots between Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, and forward Evan Mobley, right, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Will Richardson drives ahead of Southern California guard Drew Peterson (13) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley shoots over Oregon guard Will Richardson (0) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon guard Will Richardson drives to the basket ahead of Southern California guard Drew Peterson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy shoots over Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy (2) drives between Oregon guard LJ Figueroa, left, and guard Will Richardson, right, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon head coach Dana Altman watches from the bench during the first half of a Sweet 16 game against Southern California in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) shoots over Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, center, fights for a rebound with Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) and forward Chevez Goodwin (1) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy drives to the basket ahead of Oregon center Franck Kepnang, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Isaiah White #5 of the USC Trojans reacts to a play against the Oregon Ducks in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) shoots over Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Will Richardson, right, drives up court in front of Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy (2) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) drives to the basket ahead of Oregon forward Eric Williams Jr., left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Isaiah White (5) shoots over Oregon guard Will Richardson (0) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Isaiah White celebrates after making a basket during the first half of a Sweet 16 game against Oregon in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte drives to the basket past Southern California guard Isaiah White, right, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) tries to steal the ball from Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California forward Evan Mobley (4) fights for the opening tipoff with Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) loses the ball over Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Drew Peterson celebrates after making a 3-point basket during the second half of a Sweet 16 game against Oregon in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Drew Peterson (13) passes ahead of Oregon guard Will Richardson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans reacts in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against the Oregon Ducks in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans reacts to a foul call in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against the Oregon Ducks in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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Well, at least the Pac-12 regular-season championship is put to bed.

USC broke the virtual tie with Oregon and, for the second time this season, broke everything else the Ducks had planned.

This 82-68 win will be better-known as the ramp to the regional finals for the Trojans, who will see undefeated Gonzaga at the top of it Tuesday night..

It came atop the 72-58 win over the Ducks in Galen Center on Feb. 22, one in which the Trojans led 15-0 and by 21 at the half without Isaiah Mobley. This one was nearly as routine, although the no-quit Ducks hassled USC with their pressure defense in the second half and actually made USC coach Andy Enfield call a time out under duress.

Although Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy pushed the Trojans ahead in the first half with their shooting, the two signature moments came from the Mobley family.

Isaiah took an inbounds pass against Oregon’s press and sauntered 70 feet for a reverse dunk. Evan, who had been a sedate presence until then, took advantage of a defensive gamble and tickled all the seismographs in the Midwest with a two-hand jam, one that he will replicate on a weekly basis, at least, for some lottery-bound NBA franchise next season.

But the Trojans really won with a zone defense that is becoming Enfield’s weapon of choice. With 6-foot-8 Drew Peterson on the point and with the Mobleys standing back there like library lions, Oregon was flummoxed enough to shoot 30 percent in the first half.

It was leading 10-9 when USC went into the zone and got a bucket on the first possession against it. The Trojans then scored 12 of the next 14 points, over a span of 4:05, and the Ducks missed seven consecutive shots. In the half, Oregon missed six of 10 layups in this claustrophobia-inducing setting, and because the Trojans were stroking their 3-pointers so consistently, the Ducks couldn’t find the speed game they needed.

It’s the type of zone that makes USC look so futuristic. The basketball authorities haven’t made the court any wider over the years, so when folks like Eaddy and Peterson and Isaiah White are sprinting out to hassle the shooters. That’s how you force so many offensive shoes to land on the sideline, a 21st-century type of turnover that comes from such wide spacing.

“The energy of March Madness and the crowd,” explained White, the transfer from Utah Valley.  “We know what’s at stake every time we come out on the floor.”

So far White and the other shooters have prevented the Trojans’ foul shooting maladies from catching up. And if the Trojans keep winning games by an average margin of 21 points, their immunity will hold.

As usual, USC opened with man-to-man defense, which is Enfield’s usual preference. He also knew Plan B wouldn’t be far away.

“They have five forwards and guards, and we have two bigs in the game,” Enfield said. “I really don’t think we can guard them man-to-man, because all five of them can shoot the ball from outside. We don’t want to bring our bigs away from the basket.  It’s hard to chase those guys all over the perimeter and we didn’t want to switch all of their ball screens, so we were able to get out on those shooters and still be strong inside. Then we just rotated our wings as we went along.”

Zones often dominate the tournament, as anyone who has played Syracuse in March can testify. Teams have little time to prepare for the ball movement that’s demanded, and they can’t really replicate what it looks like in real life.

“We probably played man-to-man 90 percent of the time during the season,” Enfield said. “But in the tournament we’ve played, we’ve played three similar teams. We went to the zone out of necessity against all their shooters.. I don’t like going small too often, and our man-to-man has been terrific most of the year. It’s basically because of the matchups we’ve had.

“We didn’t practice it for maybe a month before the tournament. Now we’re got better and better because we’ve played it so much.”

Drake, Kansas and Oregon have shot 32.1 percent, or missed 67.9 percent, in these tournament losses to USC. Which brings us to the creature at the top of the ramp.

Gonzaga shot 49 percent in its second round win over Wisconsin. That was their worst — repeat, worst — shooting performance of its undefeated season.

On Tuesday, Gonzaga’s year-long Hot Zone intersects with a hot zone. Only one can escape.

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Whicker: Against USC’s Evan Mobley, Drake couldn’t find a lane to stay in

Paint removal is not the most fun aspect of spring cleaning. In that sense, USC and Galen Center are fortunate.

They don’t need a heat gun or sandpaper. They don’t even have to wander through the forbidding aisles of your favorite big-box store, in search of a remedy.

They have Evan Mobley.

They will not have him long, but they’ve known that all season. On Saturday, the freshman vaporized the lane and took away Darnell Brodie, who goes 6-foot-10, 270. Mobley stripped away the paint so effortlessly that his fellow Trojans joined in, and eventually Drake was reduced to long-range bombing, which worked in the first half of this NCAA tournament first round game but dissipated in the second.

USC wound up handling the tricky 6 vs. 11 matchup better than most, winning 72-56, and will graduate to a matchup with Kansas on Monday.

Brodie, a transfer from Seton Hall, missed 10 of 13 shots, and most of those misses were persuaded by either Evan or his brother Isaiah or Chevez Goodwin. Only 16 of Drake’s 56 points came in the lane, and only 12 of Drake’s 20 baskets came from someone other than Joseph Yesufu, who had 18 in the first half but was 2-for-10 in the second.

At one point the Bulldogs clunked 22 of 24 attempts, including nine of nine 3-pointers. But Mobley established the theme.

The obvious game plan is to nudge him into foul trouble, which is usually accomplished through head and ball fakes. Mobley has learned to keep his feet on the ground but even when he doesn’t, he is able to land without violating anyone’s airspace, and he never compromises his wingspan.

He is a “big” who plays big, in other words, and that is not an everyday sight in modern college basketball.

“He’s improved every week,” said coach Andy Enfield. “He has guarded physical bigs, athletic bigs, bigs with a lot of skill. And he’s able to put pressure on them offensively too.”

Mobley has played 1,020 minutes this season. He has committed only 53 fouls. The list of post defenders who have more blocks (90) and assists (76) than fouls is not a long one.

“In the college game, there are a lot more details on defense,” Mobley said. “I just try to use what the coaches teach me. I have a tendency to get jumpy at times. If I stay down I can still contest the shot if not block it.”

Five USC players combined for seven blocks, which doesn’t account for all the shots influenced, redirected or simply discouraged. One of those blocks came in the final minute from Joshua Morgan, the transfer from Long Beach State, and might have been Enfield’s way of reminding people that he has more paint-removal tools after Mobley gets away.

Max Agbonkpolo, the 6-foot-8 sophomore from Santa Margarita, is known as a potential scorer. He couldn’t resist the reject-a-thon either. He went high to try to block one dunk, although he was whistled for a foul.

“I thought he was outstanding, especially in our zone,” Enfield said. “He was very active. He’s got long arms and a great first-step. When we went to zone, he was in the game for a reason.”

As Enfield mentioned, it was reasonable to expect Drake to laugh now, cry later, due to its Thursday night First Four win over Wichita State. The Bulldogs had one night of recovery, and USC’s previous game was a Pac-12 tournament loss to Colorado eight days prior.

The game also demonstrated how USC can prosper if even one secondary scorer shows up. In this game it was Drew Peterson, who got to the hoop against Drake’s smaller guards and scored 14 on 5-of-10 shooting.

And it was another case of the Trojans overcoming their own free-throwing, which, in this game, was 8-for-15.

“It’s frustrating when good free-throw shooters miss,” Enfield said, “but we’re actually pretty good except for a couple of guys (Isaiah Mobley and Chevez Goodwin), and they’re improving.

“Tonight Evan was 2-for-4. But I wasn’t going to take him out.”

Kansas, which finally shook off Eastern Washington’s challenge, will be a tougher project. David McCormick is a 6-foot-10, 265-pound strongman who scored 22 on Eastern Washington.

But the Jayhawks have been plagued by COVID-19 in the short term and an investigation into what NCAA officials called “egregious” recruiting crimes in the long term. They haven’t lived up to their brand this season, and they gave up 35 points to EWU center Tanner Groves on Saturday.

A win would give USC a Final 16 appearance. It hasn’t done that in 14 years. The older the paint, the harder the scrape.

 

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Whicker: USC’s defense crushes UCLA’s hopes of surviving shorthanded

  • Head coach Mick Cronin talks with Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins looks toward the score board against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. USC Trojans won 66-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ethan Anderson #20 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tyger Campbell #10 sits on the bench as head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins scrambles for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans scramble for the loose ball against Jules Bernard #1 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins sits on the bench against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins passes against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Chevez Goodwin #1 reacts along with teammate Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • USC Trojans looks on wearing masks due to the Coronavirus Pandemic against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins shoots over Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans fights for the rebound against Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Noah Baumann #30 of the USC Trojans takes a last second three point attempt against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans shoots against Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans reacts after a foul call in the first half of a NCAA basketball game against the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Before Bill Walton’s consciousness even began to stream Saturday night, UCLA grimly announced two members of their sitting lineup.

Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, the Bruins’ two bigs, were out. That’s 40.7 minutes, 17.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

The Bruins would not use that as an excuse. More important was USC’s refusal to use it as a hall pass.

The Trojans took those two holes in the Bruins’ lineup and planted their feet deep inside them. The result was a suspense-free, 64-48 whipping that allowed USC to tie UCLA for first place in the Pac-12.

USC’s businesslike nature was most evident on defense. UCLA missed 16 of 19 3-point attempts and shot 34 percent overall. Only 11 of UCLA’s baskets were assisted, which means the longer, more animated Trojans cut off the usual lanes that start up the Bruins’ offense.

Point guard Tyger Campbell had about as much influence as Riley and Hill. He went for 10 and found his driving paths barricaded. Campbell, Jules Bernard, Johnny Juzang and Jaime Maquez combined to shoot 13 for 45. In fact, backup center Micawber (Mac) Etienne was UCLA’s best player, with eight points in 27 minutes.

On the other end, Campbell & Co. could do nothing with guards Ethan Anderson and Tahj Eaddy, who combined to hit eight of their 15 three-point attempts.

“They’re a top 15 team defensively, according to some of the metrics,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “They have a lot of creativity, a lot of multiple-position players. When they spread the floor with four guards, it’s really hard to guard them.

“With Campbell, we just tried to put some length on him. We thought that was a big key to challenge his shots. He didn’t score huge for them tonight.”

USC’s superiority at the rim made UCLA miss nine of 13 layups, and the Bruins led for only two minutes and three seconds, and averaged just .787 points per possession. UCLA became the fifth of the past nine USC opponents to shoot below 40 percent.

The shortfall forced the Bruins to play zone, a subversive idea in Coach Mick Cronin’s world. Enfield said that it made the Trojans stop and think, “because they never played zone and we haven’t practiced it,” but they looked comfortable in getting the ball inside to Evan Mobley or Isaiah Mobley and then preparing well to shoot when it came back out.

The Mobleys got 14 points and 10 field-goal attempts between them. Evan will be a high first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft but, like Onyeka Ogonkwu last year, he isn’t always the centerpiece of the offense. Instead, he and his brother snapped up 20 rebounds.

On nights like this, USC looks like a stealth candidate to stir up some dust in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans are 15-3 now.

“I remember when we found out we were picked sixth in the conference,” Eaddy said. “We said, ‘What? There’s no way.’”

“I kept repeating the names of all the transfers that were coming in,” Anderson said, referring to Eaddy, Chevez Goodwin, Noah Baumann, Isaiah White and Drew Peterson. “Everybody knew Evan Mobley was coming, but I kept telling people we had more coming than that. I’m glad they’ve been able to show what they can do. It’s been absolutely excellent.”

“We’ve done well but we’ve got nine games to go,” Enfield said, wary of slippage.

This team could go a long way, if it’s really true that defense travels.

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USC’s defense crushes UCLA’s hopes of surviving shorthanded

  • Head coach Mick Cronin talks with Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins looks toward the score board against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. USC Trojans won 66-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ethan Anderson #20 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tyger Campbell #10 sits on the bench as head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins scrambles for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins sits on the bench against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans scramble for the loose ball against Jules Bernard #1 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins passes against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Chevez Goodwin #1 reacts along with teammate Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • USC Trojans looks on wearing masks due to the Coronavirus Pandemic against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins shoots over Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans fights for the rebound against Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Noah Baumann #30 of the USC Trojans takes a last second three point attempt against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans shoots against Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans reacts after a foul call in the first half of a NCAA basketball game against the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Before Bill Walton’s consciousness even began to stream Saturday night, UCLA grimly announced two members of their sitting lineup.

Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, the Bruins’ two bigs, were out. That’s 40.7 minutes, 17.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

The Bruins would not use that an excuse. More important was USC’s refusal to use it as a hall pass.

The Trojans took those two holes in the Bruins’ lineup and planted their feet deep inside them. The result was a suspense-free, 64-48 whipping that allowed USC to tie UCLA for first place in the Pac-12.

USC’s businesslike nature was most evident on defense. UCLA missed 16 of 19 3-point attempts and shot 34 percent overall. Only 11 of UCLA’s baskets were assisted, which means the longer, more animated Trojans cut off the usual lanes that start up the Bruins’ offense.

Point guard Tyger Campbell had about as much influence as Riley and Hill. He went for 10 and found his driving paths barricaded. He, Jules Bernard, Johnny Juzang and Jaime Maquez combined to shoot 13 for 45. In fact, backup center Micawber (Mac) Etienne was UCLA’s best player, with eight points in 27 minutes.

On the other end, Campbell & Co. could do nothing with guards Ethan Anderson and Tahj Eaddy, who combined to hit eight of 15 three-pointers.

“They’re a top 15 team defensively, according to some of the metrics,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “They have a lot of creativity, a lot of multiple-position players. When they spread the floor with four guards, it’s really hard to guard them.

“With Campbell we just tried to put some length on him. We thought that was a big key to challenge his shots. He didn’t score huge for them tonight.”

USC’s superiority at the rim made UCLA miss nine of 13 layups, and the Bruins led for only two minutes and three seconds, and averaged just .787 points per possession. UCLA became the fifth of the past nine USC opponents to shoot below 40 percent.

The shortfall forced the Bruins to play zone, a subversive idea in coach Mick Cronin’s world.  Enfield said that it made the Trojans stop and think, “because they never played zone and we haven’t practiced it,” but they looked comfortable in getting the ball inside to Evan Mobley or Isaiah Mobley and then preparing well to shoot when it came back out.

The Mobleys got 14 points and 10 field goal attempts between them. Evan will be a high first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft but, like Onyeka Ogonkwu last year, he isn’t always the centerpiece of the offense. Instead, he and his brother snapped up 20 rebounds.

On nights like this USC looks like a stealth candidate to stir up some dust in the NCAA tournament. The Trojans are 15-3 now.

“I remember when we found out we were picked sixth in the conference,” Eaddy said. “We said, ‘What? There’s no way.’”

“I kept repeating the names of all the transfers that were coming in,” Anderson said, referring to Eaddy, Chevez Goodwin, Noah Baumann, Isaiah White and Drew Peterson. “Everybody knew Evan Mobley was coming, but I kept telling people we had more coming than that. I’m glad they’ve been able to show what they can do. It’s been absolutely excellent.”

“We’ve done well but we’ve got nine games to go,” Enfield said, wary of slippage. This team could go a long way, if it’s really true that defense travels.

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USC thwarts UC Riverside’s upset bid in OT

Having lost several scheduled games to COVID-19 restrictions, USC booked a replacement game against UC Riverside for Tuesday night at the Galen Center, a mid-week game sandwiched between Pac-12 opponents.

The Trojans got a little more than they likely expected from the Highlanders and needed a big overtime period from Drew Peterson to complement nice efforts from brothers Evan and Isaiah Mobley and close out a 67-62 victory.

UCR used a 16-0 run in the first half to open a five-point lead at halftime and the Big West Conference visitors had a chance to win the game in regulation before 7-foot freshman Evan Mobley blocked Zyan Pullin’s shot at the buzzer. It was one of six blocks for Mobley, who boasts a 7-5 wingspan.

Evan Mobley’s dunk with 4:05 left in the extra session gave the Trojans (9-2) the lead for good but they never created much distance from the Highlanders (4-3). USC had a one-point lead when Peterson scored three-point plays on back-to-back possessions, a jumper and a free throw followed by an inside basket and free throw that extended the margin to 61-56 with 2:35 left.

Dominick Pickett came back with a 3-pointer for UCR 19 seconds later, but Evan Mobley sank a pair of free throws, Peterson hit a jumper and the Trojans had enough room to hold on.

Evan Mobley scored 20 points (on 8-for-12 shooting) and had 11 rebounds to go with his defensive contributions, and Isaiah Mobley finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Trojans. Peterson had 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Tahj Eaddy added 10 points, four rebounds and two steals.

UCR had five players score in double digits: Pickett (16), Cameron Flynn (12) and Jock Perry, Pullin and Arinze Chidom 10 each.

“UC Riverside played well defensively, and we had a slow start that gave them some confidence,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “It was a good win considering we were 3 for 21 from the 3-point line.

“We’ve had trouble there recently. I think we’re 6 for 43 the last few games, and a lot of those shots were wide open. We weren’t forcing anything; we just didn’t make many.”

In overtime, the Trojans used their height advantage to post up the 6-8 Peterson for good looks.

“We’re happy to get a win,” Peterson said. “There are no free wins these days. Every win you get is gritty.”

Especially when the schedule is in a constant state of flux. That has been a concern for most Division I teams. The Trojans booked the game between conference games, which was a challenge considering the unexpected depth of the Pac-12 this season. Tuseday’s game was the first of six scheduled during a 12-day period.

“UC Riverside was a tough and local team and it was a cram session for us to be ready,” Enfield said.

“They kind of dared us to take outside shots, and were forcing us to the left side, which we didn’t expect,” Isaiah Mobley said. “We just had to start executing the way we know how. I really think this is a championship team, and winning games like this shows what we can do.”

USC led 14-9 when UCR went on its 16-0 run, Flynn hitting three 3-pointers and Wil Tattersall capping the run with one of his own with 7:56 left before halftime.

UCR led 32-27 at halftime. USC’s 52-47 lead in the second half with 3:10 left was the largest lead for either team prior to overtime.

UCR outscored USC 36-9 from beyond the arc but was just 2 for 9 from the free-throw line compared to the Trojans’ 16-for-22 mark. Both teams shot below 40 percent from the field. USC outrebounded UCR, 47-37.

WHO TO BELIEVE?

USC entered the game 5-0 all-time against UC Riverside, winning the last meeting, 70-26, on Dec. 15, 2012. USC was forced to vacate its 2008 victory against the Highlanders due to NCAA penalties. But that’s according to the Trojans’ media guide.

The Highlanders’ media guide gives UC Riverside credit for wins against USC on Feb. 3, 1967 and Nov. 30, 1979 and puts the rivalry at 6-2 in favor of the Trojans.

New services contributed to this story.

UP NEXT

UC Riverside faces Cal Poly on the road for back-to-back Big West games on Friday and Saturday.

USC resumes Pac-12 play when it welcomes Washington to town on Thursday.

The Trojans came back from 11 points down to get the W.

Catch all the highlights from tonight’s game! ⤵pic.twitter.com/2usKYfZVLI

— USC Men’s Basketball (@USC_Hoops) January 13, 2021

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Alexander: Against a better team, USC runs out of comebacks

This was not Arizona State, or Arizona, or UCLA that USC was playing on Friday night. This was a battle-tested program that USC faced in the Pac-12 championship game, an Oregon team that certainly heard all that talk about not belonging here and resolved to shove it in their critics’ faces.

So this was not another of those miracle comebacks that Clay Helton’s team kept pulling off in 2020, because this was too good an opponent to fall behind by two touchdowns and hope to rally – especially with a Ducks’ defensive front that kept Kedon Slovis under duress all night and by the end had sent him to the X-ray room to have his shoulder examined.

Oregon is a hurdle that much of the Pac-12, not just USC, finds difficult to surmount in December. The Ducks have played in four of the conference’s 10 championship games and won all four, with Friday night’s 31-24 victory in the Coliseum their second in a row. And they seem to be a team that has handled the uncertainty and adversity of Pandemic Football well.

They won’t rank among Oregon’s best teams, not after back-to-back losses to Oregon State and Cal as well as barely escaping at home against a UCLA club that was better than anticipated. But they were the best team the Trojans had faced this season, by far, and have now beaten USC in four of their past five meetings.

This wasn’t nearly of the same magnitude as Oregon’s 56-24 wipeout last November at the Coliseum (which, among other things, helped convince Chargers general manager Tom Telesco that quarterback Justin Herbert was the real deal.) But there remains a good degree of separation between the Oregon and USC programs, even beyond the fact that Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal just received a six-year contract extension. A vocal segment of USC fans, of course, would prefer a buyout of Helton’s contract, which runs through 2023.

USC was fun to watch during this truncated season, no doubt. The Trojans (5-1) showed grit, determination, and a willingness to believe right down to the end every week. It was impressive that Slovis had the ball in his hands on Friday with a chance to pull off yet another miracle on the final play after USC had fallen behind 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game and trailed 31-17 with 10 minutes left.

Especially since he spent all night trying to escape Oregon’s pass rush. The Ducks (4-2) sacked him three times, and two of them were from players who got away – Kayvon Thibodeaux, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore from Oaks Christian, had one sack and two other tackles for loss, and sophomore linebacker Andrew Faoliu from Mater Dei also got him once. Beyond that, Slovis spent most of the night throwing on the run and was intercepted three times.

“That’s a talented front and we know what Kayvon can do, and I thought he got tremendous jump off the ball,” Helton said. “They flushed Kedon out of the pocket, got him off his spot a bunch. I did think Kedon did a nice job of keeping his eyes up and downfield and creating a lot after being flushed. But credit to them.”

But really, as entertaining as they were all season, the Trojans were far from great. The cavalcade of errors and self-inflicted wounds that helped beat them Friday night –  turnovers, penalties, poor blocking and too many missed tackles – are just as much a part of the résumé as that grit and determination. Wasting a great defensive play with an unnecessary personal foul, as Isaiah Pola-Mao did early in the third quarter, or the roughing-the-punter penalty by Talanoa Hufanga that kept an eventual Oregon scoring drive alive … these are the sorts of undisciplined things that Helton’s critics point to when they complain that the Trojans aren’t coached well enough.

As we’ve said before, this season amounted to a free pass for Helton from a job security standpoint. Had this been a full season, with fans filling the Coliseum and no worries about COVID-19 tests or canceled games or anything beyond the usual demands of the USC fan base, he might be on the clock as we speak.

Not even those inspiring comebacks quieted the critics. You can still find them on social media regularly, and they make occasional appearances in the columnist’s inbox.

The coach knows the drill, certainly.

“You know, we’re judged on championships here,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this place. That’s the expectation. That’s the standard. That’s what we fight for. That’s why our hearts are broken in that locker room, because that’s the only thing we will accept as a team, is a championship.

“And the fact of the matter is, we’re really close, but obviously we didn’t get it done tonight and that’s the next step.”

Like it or not, Trojans fans, this season earned Helton another year, and another chance.

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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USC-Colorado football game canceled because of Trojans’ coronavirus cases

USC managed to avoid any coronavirus-related issues for the first three weeks of its pandemic-shortened Pac-12 season. But the Trojans’ good fortune ended this week and their showdown against Colorado on Saturday at the Coliseum was canceled Thursday.

“After consultation with USC, the Pac-12 Conference announced the game involving Colorado at USC … will not be played,” the conference said in a statement. “This decision was made under the Pac-12’s football policy due to USC not having the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game at a specific position group as a result of a number of positive football student-athlete COVID-19 cases and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols. The game will be declared a no contest.”

The position group is the offensive line, according to ESPN.

USC (3-0) announced earlier in the day that, in addition to two players who tested positive earlier in the week, a third was being tested because he had come down with possible COVID-19 symptoms. Practice was canceled and a virtual meeting was to be held instead.

Coach Clay Helton said Tuesday an unidentified player had tested positive and was symptomatic and quarantined. The player traveled with the Trojans for last Saturday’s game against Utah and contact tracing began in conjunction with medical authorities following his positive test.

Practice was canceled Tuesday.

Further testing revealed a second positive case, and that unnamed player and five others who had been identified through contact tracing were quarantined. The Trojans were cleared to resume practice Wednesday by medical officials, but then were forced from the practice field again Thursday.

“We are disappointed for our players and fans and those from Colorado that Saturday’s game will not be played, but the health and safety of everyone in both programs is of the utmost priority,” Helton said in a statement. “Our players have worked hard since the summer not only to prepare for this season, but to do so in a safe manner by following all health protocols. I applaud their discipline and sacrifice in doing so. We will continue to test and monitor our players, coaches and staff and take guidance from health officials as we prepare for our remaining games.”

USC has scheduled games against Washington State and UCLA remaining on its six-game schedule.

The Trojans-Buffaloes game was the third Pac-12 contest to be canceled this week because of the coronavirus concerns, following the Washington-Washington State and Utah-Arizona State games. Overall, nine Pac-12 games have been canceled in only four weeks of play.

The positive tests of USC players also puts the Trojans’ game Dec. 4 against Washington State at the Coliseum in jeopardy since Los Angeles County Health Department guidelines call for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to be quarantined for at least 14 days.

Additionally, this is Colorado’s second game in as many weeks that has been canceled, after their contest last Saturday against ASU was canceled. Instead of sitting idle for a second consecutive Saturday, the Buffaloes (2-0) reportedly will play host to San Diego State in a nonconference game.

San Diego State (3-2) had its scheduled Mountain West game Friday against Fresno State canceled because of coronavirus concerns at Fresno, one of at least 97 games called off or rescheduled this season, according to a list compiled by CBSsports.com.

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USC quotable: Clay Helton, Kedon Slovis, Kana’i Mauga weigh in on win over Utah

Here are some highlights from the press conferences following USC’s 33-17 win over Utah:

Head coach Clay Helton

Opening statement:

“What a great win for our football team. To come to Salt Lake, which is a really tough place to play, to go against a Kyle Whittingham team that is in my opinion one of the best coaches in the country and to come out of here with a win — which was a big win for us and for our season, really proud of our kids. I thought the storyline tonight, one, was our defense. I thought they played amazing the entire game, really only giving up 10 points themself — we gave up 7 points offensively — but we had a goal in the second half coming out of the locker room that we didn’t want to allow another point. And unbelievable, I thought the defense in the second half rallied and rallied and rallied, turnover after turnover, fourth-down stops, just did an amazing job. Kana’i [Mauga] coming in making the most of his opportunity, the play-makers in the back end with the interceptions that they got, multiple sacks by the defensive front, I thought we got the quarterback off his spot all night.

“The other thing that I thought needs to be said and noticed was the kicking game. I thought the two specialists did an amazing job tonight — both Parker Lewis in kick coverage and also with field goals that he made, and then Ben [Griffiths] just not allowing them the opportunity to get a return started. Our defense and our special teams, I thought was stellar. Not on all cylinders offensively tonight. We did enough to get it done and put enough points on the board to get the win.”

On the difference he saw Saturday compared to the first two weeks:

“I thought execution defensively was phenomenal. I thought they played with a swagger tonight and played with tremendous emotion. I think that we are growing as a football team. Coming to Salt Lake where I know with Kyle, they had not lost a home opener in the last 11 years, and I think it’s 18 total, and to come in here with the mindset this team had that we’re going to do whatever it took to come out here with the win and get 1-0 on the week, 3-0 on the season, I thought their mindset was an improvement from the last two weeks.”

On the defensive game plan:

“I thought the defensive front was stellar. We talked about that we had to stop the run. We knew they were going to come in, they had always been a 60-percent-run-plus team against us, and so that was the initial — at all costs stop the run even if that means loaded boxes. They put a little pressure on the secondary, but they held their own and that allowed us to get to third down and then our pass rushers did an amazing job. They forced throws that caused interceptions, sacks, fumbles in the backfield. It just felt like we were playing in the backfield all night, and credit to [Todd Orlando], credit to Vic [So’oto], Donte [Williams] and Craig [Naivar], they put an amazing game plan together, but more importantly the kids executed it.”

Why RBs Markese Stepp and Stephen Carr either sat out or were limited:

“Markese had a pectoral strain that we were hoping would get better throughout the week. He practiced through the week, but just wasn’t himself there. Stephen was the same way. He didn’t practice a lot during the week, and then got a little bit of a knee to the back and we went ahead and pulled him. We kind of knew it was going to be Vavae [Malepeai]’s game and Kenan [Christon]’s game, and I thought they did a nice job. Kenan came in and gave us an explosive run, and Vavae was that every-down back that we needed. I thought he did a good job running the ball, also in pass protection tonight. I was hoping both would get back to the game — Stephen was really close, but ‘Kese we just decided not to dress out tonight.”

His impression of the offense:

“Coming out of the first half thinking, not to say frustration, but lost opportunities. I really thought that should’ve been a 31-10 ballgame at halftime. We gave up 7 points offensively, and we also took seven points off the board in the red zone. I thought coming out in that first drive was really important. We drove it down and got some points on the board. I thought Graham [Harrell] did a nice job of putting the plan together, and the kids went down and executed it. Would love to have touchdowns over field goals, but we kept adding the points up. As good as the defense was playing, we just said, OK, just keep adding the points, securing the ball, and I thought we got in a little better rhythm in the second half. Obviously, the penalty that brought back the touchdown, followed by a turnover, and then the turnover for a touchdown in the first half is just what sticks out to me.”

On QB Kedon Slovis’ performance:

“What I love about Kedon is that he’s a winner, and winners find ways to win. He’s done that each and every week. The statsheet won’t be as pretty as the last couple weeks, percentage-wise, but at the end of the day, winners win, and that’s what he is. He did the things we needed him to do to walk out of Salt Lake City with a huge win, and all of our kids did. We’re such perfectionists as coaches and as players and we know what this offense could be, and we’re going to look up and it’s going to turn from a 30-point offense into hopefully a 40- or 50-point offense. We all want more. We all want to do a little bit better, and we’ll continue to work at it, but the one thing Kedon does is he finds the way to put the team on his back and win ballgames. He’s done it again for us. He’s 1-0 on the week, and 3-0 on the season.”

How USC can create separation from opponents:

“Yeah, 16 points is nice. We’d love to have even more but I saw a lot of people today saying it wouldn’t be 16, and I saw a lot of people say that Utah would win. So to be able to come into a tough place and win a ball game against a Kyle Whittingham team that we have a lot of respect for and a Utah team that we have a lot of respect for and to walk out of here with a 16-point win, we’ll take it. Obviously, like I said earlier, to be able to eliminate the turnover that caused points and the turnover that took points off the board for us is something that would create even more separation, to be honest with you. Really, I thought it should have been a 31-10 ball game at halftime. We let them stay in it into the second half and then we started to separate ourselves, which I’m proud of the kids for doing. But we will hit on all cylinders and I’m looking forward to that here soon. And we’re close. Defensively I thought we took a major, major step ahead. Offensively, we’re doing the things to win but we haven’t reached our full potential yet and I look forward to that day.”

If this was what he expected out of Todd Orlando’s defenses:

“The one thing I really enjoy about TO is his aggressiveness. He’s what I believe and what I love on offense, is be attacking, be aggressive, and he’s that way defensively. He has no fear in his calls and the kids believe in him, in the system and tonight it was evident. The confidence was just radiating off of them. I mean we were literally saying, there was one point down in the first half I said go get the ball back and bring it to me. And literally two plays later they go and get the turnover and they immediately run it over to me. It was so much fun to watch them play tonight and I thought they played for each other. The other thing TO has done a nice job of, you saw us play a lot of kids tonight. A lot of kids tonight defensively. And I thought that helped us. TO has really trained these kids within the system. It’s a system that is easy to pick up and now they’re kind of thriving in it. Now, let’s go be consistent. We got to the point where this is the level that we want to play at. Now let’s be consistent in it and take this to next week.”

The message to the team midway through the regular season:

“The approach that we’ve taken and we’re not gonna change is we just want to be 1-0 on the week. And everything that’s gone on in college football and all the unknowns, you’re just hoping to make it to the next game. Every one of these games are a gift in my opinion. It was a gift to come to Salt Lake and have the opportunity to play. I was so happy for Kyle’s kids. Can you imagine all the work that they put in and this is their first game? We’ve been around since July working at this and they got their first game tonight. I mean, that’s a gift. So the approach for us is what we’ve done the last three weeks, 1-0 on the week. We’ll go home, we’ll celebrate this one, we’ll put it to bed and then we got a good Colorado team coming in that is also undefeated right now and they’re looking for their opportunity. So as long as we stay in the moment and stay focused on our job, it’ll all add up in the end and hopefully we’re in a spot to go win a championship. So we’ll stay on that mindset. That’s what I’ve trained the kids to do, and that’s what I’ve trained our coaches to do so I’m not even looking ahead other than next week.”

QB Kedon Slovis

On his performance:

“I didn’t think I had any issues throwing the ball. Coach was helping me figure out the game balls and getting that fixed. But I don’t think I played very well as a whole. I have to execute better. We left a lot of points on the board, and that’s mostly because of my play and not being disciplined. So I think if you see my play increase, we’ll put up a lot more points and have a lot more success offensively.”

What he saw on his interception throw, and if he is frustrated by talk about the health of his arm:

“On the interception, to begin with, just a four-verts play we run all the time, we execute at a high level. I think I was just kinda on a different page as Erik [Krommenhoek], where he was running, I thought he was gonna take a different angle but still that’s on, that’s my fault, the interception. When they give us that look, I just got to check it down or just be smart with the football and it was a careless throw. And with all the chatter, if anything it motivates me to be on my best game. I thought this would be a really great week of practice offensively. I just want to see it carry over into the game.”

LB Kana’i Mauga

On how things felt for the defense:

“It felt amazing. There was a lot of talk with the whole defense that we were going to be in a bar fight, and that’s basically what we did all game. We took the fight to them. Hit more blows than we took, and we came out on top.”

The defensive emphasis:

“Basically stopping the run. That was our main goal. Utah had tow running backs that are really powerful, and we just wanted to focus on stopping the run, making them air out the ball so our DBs can work.”

Where the defense has improved the most:

“The amount of viciousness, I guess you could say. We’re really getting up to the ball, and we’re making sure the defense is zeroed in once the game starts.”

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As college leaders meet, football players push to play

After the Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday to discuss mounting concern about whether a college football season can be played in a pandemic, players took to social media to urge leaders to let them play.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago?” he said. “No, we’re not.”

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting speaking on condition of anonymity said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

All this activity comes a day after the Mid-American Conference became the first among 10 leagues that play at the highest tier of Division I college football to cancel fall sports because of concerns about keeping athletes from contracting and spreading COVID-19.

The MAC’s decision came less than a month before the first games are scheduled to be played and raised questions if other conferences might follow.

Also on Saturday, the Big Ten slowed its ramp up to the season, announcing its teams would not be permitted to start full contact practices until further notice. The Big Ten season is scheduled to start Labor Day weekend.

Meanwhile, college football players took to social media Sunday to push for a season, led by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence tweeted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message.

“Since day one coming back to campus the Penn State Football staff and medical experts have put our health and safety first, above anything else,” he tweeted. “The guidelines put into place keep us safe while playing the game we love. We are ready to play and we want to play.”

Other players tweeted with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay, and within a few hours that movement merged with another. Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Cuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from across the country posted a graphics with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited, the hashtag used by a group of Pac-12 players who announced a college player rights movement a week ago.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

— Representative of all Power Five conferences.

The parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too, posting a letter saying they were confident in the university’s plan to keep their sons safe.

“We believe that this age group represents some of the healthiest individuals, while we recognize the risk cannot be eliminated, we believe the risk is minimal and the season can safely and responsibly occur,” wrote the Football Parents Association at Ohio State.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he has heard the same from Fighting Irish football players. Notre Dame has had only two COVID-19 cases since it began testing athletes.

“I’ve been around our guys and they thinks it’s safe and they want to try and play,” Swarbrick said. “If we change course, we better be able to articulate the reason for doing so to our student-athletes. They are going to want to know why.”

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