Balance leads USC to 81-71 win over Washington State
LOS ANGELES — Fans at home were embarrassingly hard to come by in previous years for Southern California. Now they are showing up in bunches, and the Trojans are rewarding them.
Katin Reinhardt scored 18 points and USC remained perfect at home with an 81-71 victory over Washington State on Thursday night.
The Trojans (16-5, 5-3 Pac-12) improved to 12-0 at home as they snapped a two-game losing streak. It is USC's best home record to start a season since opening 13-0 in 1943.
"Playing in front of empty crowds and no one in the student section the last few years, seeing it full now is giving us a boost," Reinhardt said. "We've got a young group of people in the stands being loud and reckless and it's helping us win."
Chimezie Metu and Nikola Jovanovic added 12 points apiece, Bennie Boatwright had 11 and Elijah Stewart scored 10 for the Trojans (16-5, 5-3 Pac-12).
With an uncharacteristically full and raucous student section cheering them the whole way, USC jumped out to a 52-41 halftime lead and remained in front by multiple possessions the entire second half.
"It's like having a sixth man out there," Jovanovic said. "We don't take it for granted, because we haven't had that the last few years."
That fans are actually showing up to the Galen Center is a product of the rebuilding job by third-year coach Andy Enfield. After going 23-41 his first two seasons at USC, the coach made famous by his up-tempo style of basketball termed "Dunk City" at Florida Gulf Coast has turned the Trojans into a high-flying, high-scoring program turning heads in the entertainment capital of the west. USC leads the Pac-12 in dunks (82) and 3-pointers made (176).
"We feel our team is fun to watch," Enfield said. "Hopefully we'll continue to get good crowds and keep this up at home."
Ike Iroegbu scored 21 points for the Cougars (9-11, 1-7), who suffered their sixth consecutive loss. Que Johnson scored 16 points off the bench and Josh Hawkinson had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
"When USC gets out and runs that's when they're at their best," Iroegbu said. "Once they got going we couldn't stop them."
Trailing most of the second half, Washington State reeled off a 10-0 run late to cut its deficit to 70-64 with 5:31 to go.
But Jordan McLaughlin hit a 3-pointer from the left wing and then found Metu under the basket for a dunk the following possession to re-extend the Trojans lead to double-digits.
The Cougars never got within three possessions again.
"We gave up some dunks and mentally lost our focus," Washington State coach Ernie Kent said. "Once that happened, they jumped on us."
Washington State: The Cougars are 1-6 away from home and haven't won a true road game since Feb. 2015. ... They dropped to 0-10 when trailing at the half. ... Hawkinson recorded his 15th double-double in 19 games this season.
USC: The Trojans have led at halftime in 17 of their 21 games. They are 15-2 in those contests. ... Their 16-5 record is their best start to a season since 2001-02. ... Reinhardt reached 1,000 career points in the first half. The junior now has 1,007 in his career.
SIR DUNK A LOT
Metu added to his electric freshman debut with four more dunks, giving him 36 on the season They included a steal at midcourt that resulted in a two-handed breakaway slam, an alley-oop finish and the two-handed jam late in the second half to seal the Cougars fate.
He has a dunk in 12 of his last 13 games. With Metu leading the way, USC has out-dunked its opponent in all but one game this season.
NEEDING A VALENTINE
Washington State's six-game losing streak directly coincides with losing center Valentine Izundu to a foot injury. Izundu ranked third in the Pac-12 with 2.7 blocks per game before going down.
With Izundu in the lineup the Cougars allowed 70.9 points per game. In six games without him, they are allowing 86.8.
Washington State visits UCLA on Saturday.
USC hosts Washington on Saturday.