‘Neu­tral’ ground far from safe for Tro­jans

Play­ing at Sta­ples Cen­ter, TCU hands En­field his worst loss in six years at USC.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - brady.mccol­[email protected]­times.com Twit­ter: @BradyMcCol­lough By J. Brady McCol­lough

To some­one who does not un­der­stand USC bas­ket­ball’s place in the Los An­ge­les sports hier­ar­chy, Andy En­field’s de­scrip­tion of Sta­ples Cen­ter as a venue for his team this week might have come as a sur­prise.

“It’s a neu­tral court,” En­field said.

The Tro­jans play their home games at Galen Cen­ter, less than a two-mile trek down Figueroa Street. And they do rep­re­sent the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, af­ter all. But En­field seemed re­signed to a USC fan turnout so small that it would not pro­vide the Tro­jans a home-court ad­van­tage against Texas Chris­tian, which hopped a com­mer­cial plane Thurs­day and flew 1,400 miles for what it as­sumed would be some­thing at least re­sem­bling a road game.

Of course, En­field was right. Los An­ge­les’ pro bas­ket­ball arena had noth­ing to of­fer the Tro­jans in the way of as­sis­tance Fri­day night. USC looked like it had other plans too, ne­glect­ing to show up on the near-empty big stage while TCU spent 40 min­utes of court time putting on a clinic in un­selfish bas­ket­ball dur­ing a 96-61 an­ni­hi­la­tion of the Tro­jans.

“I did not see this com­ing,” En­field said.

Fri­day night was USC’s worst loss in En­field’s five­plus sea­sons lead­ing the Tro­jans. USC (5-4) has losses in all of its mar­quee games.

The Tro­jans ap­peared rud­der­less, turn­ing it over 20 times Fri­day night and dish­ing out only 11 as­sists as a team. USC’s point guards, red­shirt junior Der­ryck Thorn­ton and fresh­man Eli­jah Weaver, each had five turnovers. The Tro­jans strug­gled to gen­er­ate any flow within their half-court of­fense, which led to a 31.6% shoot­ing night.

“We have to have more con­sis­tency in our point guard play,” En­field said. “You look at their point guards, they had 12 as­sists and two turnovers.”

In­deed, TCU’s Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson were the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Horned Frogs per­form­ing like a group head­ing to­ward back-to-back NCAA tour­na­ment berths and the Tro­jans per­form­ing like a squad head­ing to­ward a sec­ond straight sea­son watch­ing the sport’s sig­na­ture event from home.

Fisher and Robinson each had 15 points. All of Fisher’s points came on the five three­p­oint­ers he made in the first half as the Horned Frogs (7-1) built a 46-26 half­time lead.

USC had its chance to try to make it a game. Trail­ing 2317, USC guard Shaqquan Aaron stole the ball and had a break­away dunk in front of him. But he clanged the ball off the rim, and TCU an­swered with a Fisher three­p­ointer for a quick five-point swing.

“It started to snow­ball from there,” En­field said. “It’s on our vet­er­ans and our coaches to fig­ure out how to stop the other team’s runs when we can. Other teams play well, but when they do, we have to fig­ure out how to stop that and play bet­ter our­selves. Tonight, the wheels fell off.”

If a sin­gu­lar dis­turb­ing theme has emerged in this young sea­son, it is USC al­low­ing good teams to plow through it with lit­tle fight to stem the tide.

En­field called it a mental tough­ness is­sue.

“I think that’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem in our team right now,” USC cen­ter Nick Rako- ce­vic said. “We get punched in the mouth the first five min­utes and we can’t get back up. It’s just some­thing we have to work on as in­di­vid­u­als. I don’t know if you can re­ally coach that.”

En­field seemed to think that he can coach the Tro­jans through this. On one of the rough­est nights of his time at USC, he shoul­dered most of the blame for a team clearly search­ing for a leader.

“This is an em­bar­rass­ing loss for us,” En­field said. “But they’re col­lege bas­ket­ball play­ers, and they need to com­pete. This is what we all signed up for. Our coach­ing staff and play­ers, we’re go­ing to com­pete and we will find guys on our team that want to com­pete, and hope­fully they all will. They’re all good kids. We love them all. As play­ers tonight, they weren’t good, and our coaches were even worse, in­clud­ing my­self. We’ll fig­ure this out to­gether.”

Mark J. Terrill As­so­ci­ated Press

IT LOOKS LIKE a sure two points, but TCU’s Kaden Archie missed this dunk at­tempt in the sec­ond half at Sta­ples Cen­ter as USC’s Vic­tor Uyaelunmo de­fends.

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