by Chris Camello (@Chris_Camello)
LOS ANGELES – This was a going to be a make-or-break weekend for USC. They needed to defeat Arizona and Arizona State if they were going to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament.
To navigate through that type of pressure, the Trojans leaned on their upperclassmen to carry them through and they delivered.
Seniors Jonah Mathews, Daniel Utomi, and Nick Rakocevic put together very strong performances to lead USC (21-9, 10-7) to a 71-61 win over Arizona State.
Head coach Andy Enfield was very impressed with their play.
“That was a good win, our four seniors came to play,” Enfield said. “I’m proud of them. I told our freshmen, ‘that’s what seniors do, help you win games on your home court.”
The Trojans led for most of the night, but the Sun Devils (19-10, 10-6) kept fighting to cut the deficit to 54-53. Mathews scored eight straight points to help USC maintain control.
“I had to step up and come to play,” Mathews said. “Coach put the ball in my hands and I had to produce.”
Mathews and Rakocevic were both battling a severe virus the past week, but looked considerably better with an off day.
Rakocevic had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds versus Arizona State.
Another big reason for this win was Daniel Utomi, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds. He came out hot knocking down four threes in the early minutes and setting the tone for the Trojans.
“Daniel is the X-factor on the team,” Mathews said of Utomi. “When he plays well, we’re really tough. He came out hot.”
The seniors aren’t done leading yet with crosstown rival UCLA coming to town in the regular season finale. The Bruins have surprisingly won their way into first place in the Pac-12 and the game next Saturday has now taken on a different meaning.