Basketball prepares for key weekend

first_imgAfter completing their first road sweep in the Enfield era last weekend in Washington, the Trojans (20-4, 7-4) return home to begin their second go-around of Pac-12 play this week against Oregon State. Their seven remaining games include a stretch of three consecutive bouts versus top-10 opponents: No. 5 Oregon, at No. 10 UCLA and then at No. 9 Arizona. But first, the Trojans rematch with Oregon State University (4-20, 0-11) on Thursday night, only a month and a half after beating the Beavers by a final score of 70-63.The Trojans led that game by 17 at half but failed to put it out of reach until the final minutes. Their victory initiated an 11-game skid for OSU.Only a year ago, the Beavers secured a seven-seed in the NCAA Tournament on the back of standout senior Gary Payton II. Both the Beavers and the Trojans finished conference play at .500, but this year the teams have divergent fates. While the Beavers seek their first conference win of 2016-2017, the Trojans work toward their fifth-straight win. “The Pac-12 is great this year,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “We don’t take anything for granted. Our next game is against Oregon State. We’re focused on that and that only.” On the season the Beavers have four double-digit scorers, but only two of them, sophomore guard Stephen Thompson Jr. and forward Tres Tinkle, have averaged double figures in conference play. Granted, they average 35.5 points between them.On the other hand, USC has no clear top scorer, though Enfield suspects sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright can fill that role. Nevertheless, the Trojans have won many games by feeding the hot hand, supporting breakout performances such as freshman guard Jonah Mathew’s 26 points versus Wyoming, sophomore transfer guard Shaqquan Aaron’s 23 versus UCLA and sophomore forward Chimezie Metu’s 29 at Washington State.“Our offense has never really been around one person,” junior co-captain Jordan McLaughlin said. “It’s good for us that everybody can score at all times. If [the game] comes down the stretch, whoever has the hot hand can make our last shot.”Freshman guard De’Anthony Melton agreed.“I don’t think it really matters who starts the game,” Melton said. “Whoever comes to play that game gets to end the game, and we just feed off that.” Melton has developed as a scorer this season because the coaching staff has given him the greenlight to shoot. This past weekend he tied his career high 16 points at Washington.“The coaches have really trusted me with shooting the ball, so as long as I keep making the open shot … that’s the biggest thing for my development,” Melton said. “[Assistant coach] Tony Bland has often told me to take the open shot and take good shots, so that’s what I try to do.” The second time through the Pac-12, Melton thinks the team needs to improve its closing out games — something, of course, it struggled to do versus Oregon State.With the addition of Boatwright, an increased depth in the bench will help the Trojans to remain strong throughout the second half. But Melton believes that effort must come on both sides of the ball.“In the first half, we lost some tough ones,” Melton said. ”We have to clamp down on defense and take more pride in it.”The game tips off at 8 p.m. on Thursday night at the Galen Center.last_img