College Sports

USC basketball team off to a 4-0 start

LOS ANGELES — By playing fast, smart and unselfish, the USC basketball team is off to its best start in 15 seasons.

The Trojans are 4-0 for the first time since 2000-01 after scoring a 96-61 victory over Cal State Northridge Nov. 23 at the Galen Center.

In Coach Andy Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm, his teams went 3-1 in 2013-14 and 1-3 in 2014-15 in their first four games. The Trojans had only one game in each of those seasons where they scored 90 points or more.

This season is much different.

Aside from its impressive start, USC has scored 101, 96 and 90 points in its last three games. The Trojans are also averaging 92.5 points per game and have won by an average margin of 23 points.

Although it’s barely the beginning of the season, players have noticed a drastic change in this year’s team compared to the previous ones that they hope will bring USC basketball back to its prominence.

“The difference is night and day,” said junior guard Julian Jacobs after scoring 14 points in the team’s 90-82 win over New Mexico Nov. 21. “In the past two years, [it’s been] sort of a nuisance coming to practice at times because we were so bad. It was very cliquey, but [now] we get along great.”

Freshman forward Chimezie Metu also spoke on the team’s new mantra they introduced this season.

“Play fast, play smart and play unselfish,” he said.

The Trojans have lived up to that mantra in their four wins. They’ve played fast, outscoring opponents in fast break points, 51-30. They’ve played smart, knowing when and where to pick spots and recognizing different defensive schemes teams have thrown at them over the course of the game. And most importantly, they’ve played unselfish, leading the box score in assists, 75-23.

“We’re more talented, a year older and our players have improved their skill sets, decision making, their bodies — meaning they’re stronger and they have an understanding of what it takes to win at this level,” Enfield said after the Northridge game. “Last year, we were the youngest team in the country and [didn’t] understand how hard you had to work and how good the teams and players were playing. I think they really made a commitment to each other and the team concept, and we’re a better team.”

The Trojans had four players score in double figures against Northridge, led by Jordan McLaughlin’s 20 points on seven-for-10 shooting, four for five on three-pointers. McLaughlin also had six assists.

Nikola Jovanovic had 10 points and 10 rebounds, Jacobs had career highs in rebounds (11) and assists (10), and Bennie Boatwright had 12 points.

Sophomore guard Katin Reinhardt, who had 17 of the Trojans’ 39 bench points against Northridge, credited the team’s early season success on its unselfishness to putting teammates in the right position to score.

“We really emphasized playing team basketball and if somebody is open, [we] pass the ball and make the extra pass,” Reinhardt said. “That’s how good teams win and people that play in the postseason are unselfish and share the ball if someone is open because you know you’re going to be the next person open.”

The Trojans will now turn their focus to a much better opponent they’ll be facing Nov. 26 in Wichita State (2-1), which is ranked No. 20 in AP’s Top 25 Poll. The Trojans and Shockers play in the first round of the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Fla.

Wichita State has three starters and nine lettermen back from last season’s 30-5 team that advanced to the NCAA round of 16.

“They shoot the crap out of the ball,” Reinhardt said of the Shockers, who are shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from behind the arc. “Their guards are very good. We’re excited that we get to play a really good team and to hopefully play at a higher level when we play against them.”