LOS ANGELES – Jonah Mathews and Daniel Utomi carried the torch, leading four Trojans scoring double figures in a 71-61 USC victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils Saturday night at the Galen Center. It was the second consecutive win over an NCAA-Tournament bound team, completing a home sweep over the Arizona schools.
Mathews scored a game-high 23 points. Utomi scored 19 and added 11 rebounds. Nick Rakocevic, seemingly recovered from a virus that caused him to lose 16 pounds in two days, also had a double double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Big O, who fouled out of this game, chipped in with 10 points.
These teams met three weeks prior to this contest in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils forced the Trojans to commit 24 turnovers that day, which was the most by an ASU opponent since 2002, en route to a 66-64 victory for the Sun Devils.
Now as visitors, the Devils tried to use the same recipe but lacked a little bit of sauce. Meaning they did the same thing as before but couldn’t get any buckets. The Trojans showed up on defense again, as they held the Sun Devils to below 33 percent shooting.
Romello White opened the game scoring for Sun Devils. But the 2-0 lead would be the last and only time they were ahead on the scoreboard. Mathews evened the game with a pull up jump shot, followed by an Utomi three, and another Utomi three, then Utomi made a three again. Before they knew it, the Devils trailed by 10 by the first TV timeout at the 15:48 mark.
“He’s definitely the X-factor on the team,” said Mathews about Utomi. “When he plays well, we’re for sure playing good. He came out hot with four threes. He played well and had a double double tonight. So it wasn’t just shooting, he rebounded. He was tough.”
Coach Andy Enfield couldn’t have liked the 14 turnovers by USC in the first half. Trojans shoot 59% from the field, Arizona State made only 35% but it was only a 41-36 game at halftime. Sun Devils strategy of applying pressure after every made basket and whenever the Trojans inbounded the ball worked well enough to keep them in the game.
“They have to go make plays,” said Enfield. “You have to be tough with the ball and run through your catch. You have to go perform and we finally did that in the second half. We limited our turnovers in the second half and played much better.”
The Trojans came out of the break looking to put the visitors away early as their lead was increased to 12 points over the first eight minutes of the closing half. However, the Devils showed resiliency and went on an 11-0 blitz during the next four minutes. That’s when Mathews stepped in and grabbed the Devils by their horns.
“We knew they were gone come back with a punch,” said Mathews. “At that point, I just wanted to solidify the win. My teammates found me. I had to make plays, as a senior. Coach put the ball in my hands so I had to produce.”
Mathews responded to the run with a traditional three-point play as he got fouled making a layup. The next time down the floor he made a three pointer, giving his team a seven-point lead. After the Sun Devils’ Remy Martin, who led his team with 22 points, made a layup, Mathews answered with one of his own, making it a 62-55 score and put the game away for the Trojans.
USC is now 21-9 on the season and face cross-town rivals UCLA next Saturday at the Galen Center. UCLA defeated the Arizona Wildcats 69-64 Saturday after beating these same Sun Devils on Thursday. This means both LA schools had a home sweep the Arizona schools in Pac-12 play this week.