USC hosts UC Irvine as conference play approaches

NCAA Basketball

USC and UC Irvine hope to build some momentum for the upcoming start of conference play when they meet in a non-league game Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The Trojans (3-1) are coming off its first loss of the season, while the Anteaters (2-2) are riding a confidence boost from consecutive blowout wins over outmanned opponents.

USC had opened with three victories, but poor perimeter shooting on the road against Connecticut in the Roman Legends Classic left the team just short of a fourth triumph and ruined another sensational effort by big man Evan Mobley.

The highly regarded freshman earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors even in defeat. He carries season averages of 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. He also has 10 blocks in the young season.

“I think Evan now has played two high-level games and he understands what it takes to win at this level,” USC coach Andy Enfield said after his team split games against BYU and Connecticut at the Roman Legends event. “I think Evan and the rest of our team are gonna understand the level of intensity and the level of physicality that you need to compete at this level.”

That kind of test also should come from Irvine, which — coming off a 21-11 season — again was tabbed by the Big West Conference coaches as the team to beat in league play this season. The Anteaters have won the league’s past two regular-season championships, and four of the past five seasons.

They did not demonstrate that type of prowess in season-opening losses to Pepperdine and San Diego State, but they have since rebounded with 135-55 and 104-54 routs of Bethesda University and La Sierra.

“I think this team has the potential to be a championship team in the Big West,” Irvine coach Russ Turner said, adding that the Anteaters have “the potential to accomplish some of the things we’ve been accustomed to aiming at around here, (including) the hope that we can perform in a way when the NCAA Tournament rolls around to shine some positive light on UC Irvine.”

One area in which the Anteaters have been superior to the Trojans this season is in 3-point shooting.

With Jeron Artest going 6-for-8, Irvine shot a combined 14-for-31 (45.1 percent) from long range during its two-game winning streak.

Meanwhile, USC did not respond well to a Connecticut defense that crowded Mobley near the hoop, missing 16 of its 19 3-point attempts in the 61-58 defeat.

Mobley also stepped outside to attempt a pair of treys against the Huskies, missing both. The 7-footer had begun his collegiate career by making two of his first three.

Following Tuesday’s game, USC opens its Pac-12 season Sunday at home against Stanford. UCI has one more nonleague game scheduled (Dec. 17 at Loyola Marymount) before starting Big West play after Christmas.

–Field Level Media

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