Photo Credit: Daniel Tran/NT

USC Outlasts Arizona in Quadruple Overtime

The Trojans take down the No. 7 Wildcats

The Galen Center was loud. The lower bowl was nearly full, the rarely used top bowl was populated by fans who were living and dying with every possession. The crowd stood at the behest of the game that was playing out in front of them.

They had come because, whether by word of mouth or their own experience, they were aware that USC had a team worth watching. They had come to see if this was an overestimation of a fortunate run or an actual thing that was happening.

It took not one, not two, not three but four overtimes for them to get an answer, as USC was able to resiliently survive their way to 103–101 upset of No. 7 Arizona in a marathon of a game.

But the length of the game mattered not, both because the game delivered in entertainment from start to finish and because the result gave those in attendance a reason to celebrate once the buzzer finally signaled not the next overtime, but the end.

“That was a great basketball game,” said coach Andy Enfield afterward. “There was tremendous resiliency on our players’ part to battle…”

Despite being down eight points in the early going, despite losing a twelve-point lead in the second half and despite playing what was essentially a game and a half, the Trojans were able to endure both the Wildcats’ defense and their own waning stamina in order to find a positive result amid the madness that was this contest.

A result, that is, that materialized into a statement and a victory that provided the signature win this team had been searching for—a validation of their status as a contender in the deep Pac-12.

Photo Credit: Daniel Tran/NT

To those that attended the Galen Center on Saturday night for an event that went a little longer than expected, it was a showcase of what this team is. To the players and coaches inside that locker room, it was a sign of what this team has become.

“Last year, we lost by 30 to [Arizona],” said Enfield after the game. “We’re a much better basketball team than last year.”

Not just better, but also more confident. Last year, this team lacked assertiveness. Now, they have a confidence that exudes them from the huddle to the court.

“We were all saying we know were going to win this game,” said point guard Jordan McLaughlin. “We just didnt know what overtime it would be in.”

The confidence shown by that message was nowhere to be found last season, where poor play and frustration were more apt themes for a team that only had three conference wins all season. And, as much as this team wants to turn the page on their rough past, it works as a telling lesson of how much they have improved.

Overtime after overtime, the hope of a win was never lost. Drive after drive to the hoop by Julian Jacobs, Bennie Boatwright or Elijah Stewart, the belief that they could and would come out victorious on the other side remained.

“We just stayed together,” said Stewart.

Prior to the season, there was an urgency, a harsh critique waiting for head coach Andy Enfield if results were not produced. After plenty of loud dunks, cohesive play and most importantly, wins to their name, the criticism of the program and the indictments of Enfield have subsided, and instead turned into appraisals of what the former FGCU coach has been able to do with this spry Trojan squad.

No win under Enfield has been bigger than this one, and in that same vein, no performance has been more representative of the transformation this program has undergone.

The transformation is visible in Stewart tying his career-high with 27 points, It’s visible in Jacobs posting 18 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and six steals after playing 53 minutes on an injured ankle. It’s visible in Boatwright playing like a veteran both in the paint and behind the arc. It’s visible in Enfield saying that going to freshman Chimezie Metu down the stretch was key for rim protection. It’s visible in this team’s stamina, a product they all credit to their offseason work with their strength and conditioning coach.

Photo Credit: Daniel Tran/NT

Most of all, it’s visible in the camaraderie that pervades this roster from the starters to the end of the bench. It’s how they’ve been able to balance a joy for playing the game with their growing in maturity and mental toughness.

“It’s the same players, but they’ve grown up.” — Andy Enfield

Yet if this is growing up, it’s doing it spurts and in jumps no one foresaw. Wins over both Arizona schools now have USC near the top of the Pac-12. At 3–1, they now head to UCLA where McLaughlin’s claim of the win over Arizona being their biggest could be tested. After all, the Bruins also beat both Arizona schools this weekend as well.

USC isn’t just a program rebuilding anymore, it’s no longer looking for an identity or attempting to find moral victories. They have surpassed the stage of awareness and just accomplished recognition. Where they’ll head to the next is still up in the air, but the ceiling is as high as it has ever been.

You can reach Sports Editor Paolo Uggetti here, or follow him on Twitter @PaoloUggetti

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