The paint was clogged, a sea of knees and elbows flailing in the center of Washington’s zone, but Chevez Goodwin was undeterred. USC’s 6-foot-10 senior forward stood at the heart of the action, vacuuming up anything in his vicinity, slinging baby hooks and slamming down dunks off handoffs, discombobulating a defense that was designed to discombobulate USC, a team that sometimes struggled with its consistency from the perimeter.
But nothing could get the Trojans off track Thursday in an 79-69 win over Washington, not while it was still soaring from its weekend romp over UCLA, not with their eyes now set on March and the top of the conference.
In that sense, Washington represented an important test for a USC team that’s too often been prone to letdowns. With just six games remaining in the regular season, time is running out for USC to find its consistency. But on Thursday, the tell-tale signs of a letdown were nowhere to be found.
There was no painfully slow start and no late slump. Even as USC’s leading scorer, Isaiah Mobley, was quiet in its return, the rest of the Trojans offense had little trouble finding its rhythm. Instead of a letdown, USC proceeded to kick the door down.
That overwhelming effort started with Goodwin in the paint, piling up early post points at will. With USC’s shooters slow to start as its offense adjusted to Washington’s zone, Goodwin was content to carry the load early, and the Huskies struggled to stop him, in spite of their own size on the interior.
“It was just right there,” he said, “kind of like easy money.”
Goodwin finished with a season-high 24 points, 16 of which he scored before the half. By that point, everything had started to look easy for USC.
First, there was Boogie Ellis, draining his first three-point attempt after missing all seven of his shots Saturday. Then, it was Drew Peterson, following up his legendary night Saturday with a series of familiar step-back jumpers four days later, packing the stat sheet with 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Isaiah White even added nine points, sparking the Trojans with his energy in transition.
Where Saturday was a one-man show, USC’s offense was well-oiled machine on Thursday. The Trojans tallied 28 assists on 30 made baskets, sharing the ball better than they had all season.
“We’ve been preaching it all season,” Mobley said. It was going to take all of us. I think that showed tonight.”
It all clicked with four minutes remaining in the first half. Ellis hit another three-pointer. Peterson followed up with another on the next possession. From there, Washington didn’t score another point the rest of the half.
As USC finished the half on an 11-0 run, a modest five-point lead soon growing into a cavernous, 17-point hole, from which the Huskies would never climb out.
It was an especially encouraging result considering its leading scorer wasn’t yet at full strength. Mobley returned Thursday and was clearly out of rhythm early after missing the last two games with a broken nose and concussion symptoms.
Fitted with a black protective mask, Mobley was held scoreless for the game’s first 13 minutes and largely avoided contact on the interior as he found his footing. Mobley still finished with 12 points and eight assists.
“It took me a second to get adjusted,” Mobley said. “At first, it was like a little discomfort. I forgot to wear it in practice yesterday, so it was my first time playing with it on. But I finally figured out how to make it as comfortable as it could be.”
It took USC a moment to get adjusted. And when they did, the Trojans looked comfortable coasting to a fifth victory in their last six.
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