Southern California @ Gonzaga preview
MGM Grand Garden Arena
Last Meeting ( Mar 30, 2021 ) Southern California 66, Gonzaga 85
West Coast headliners fight to make a non-conference statement on Saturday in Las Vegas when No. 11-ranked Gonzaga faces Southern California in the Legends of Basketball Las Vegas Invitational.
Gonzaga (5-1) returned to the mainland with an 81-65 defeat of Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday.
The win over the Roadrunners followed a 2-1 showing at the Maui Invitational on Thanksgiving week in Honolulu. The Bulldogs rebounded from a 73-63 loss to current No. 1-ranked Purdue with victories against Syracuse, 76-57; and a 69-65 defeat of USC's rival, UCLA, on Nov. 22.
Gonzaga looks to push its current winning streak to four games, and move to 2-0 all-time against USC. The only previous matchup came in an 85-66 Bulldogs win in the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. A Gonzaga win would give the Bulldogs 16 consecutive wins over Pac-12 foes.
Few holdovers from that matchup remain on either roster. Trojans big man Joshua Morgan did not play, and Gonzaga's Anton Watson went scoreless in 17 minutes but did grab four rebounds with two steals.
Watson powers this Bulldogs team with 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, both team-leading totals. Morgan set a USC program record with 10 blocked shots in the Trojans' 71-63 win over Seton Hall at last week's Rady Children's Invitational in San Diego.
But while the rosters facing off this time largely are overhauled from the 2021 encounter, neither is lacking for veteran presence.
That includes USC (5-2) and Boogie Ellis. The Trojans added the transfer from Memphis before the 2021-22 season, and he has been a stalwart going into his third season in the program.
Ellis set a career high on Wednesday with eight 3-pointers made on 10 attempts en route to 28 points in USC's 106-78 rout of Eastern Washington. The blowout marked an emphatic bounce-back for the Trojans after losing the championship game of the Rady Children's Invitational to Oklahoma on a buzzer-beating tip-in, 72-70.
Wednesday's romp was USC's first triple-digit game since an overtime win over UNC-Asheville in the 2018 postseason National Invitational Tournament, and the first 100-plus-point effort in regulation since December 2015.
"Our players really dedicated themselves to trying to get back to ball movement, good screening and shot selection," Trojans coach Andy Enfield said in Wednesday. "To have 24 assists and seven turnovers is impressive. Isaiah Collier had no live ball turnovers."
Collier, a freshman who averages 17.7 points per game just behind Ellis at 21.5, has committed 34 of USC's 95 turnovers on the season, including six against Oklahoma.
In the Trojans' other loss, a 70-60 setback Nov. 14 vs. UC Irvine, Collier committed seven turnovers while playing point guard with Ellis sidelined due to injury.
USC is back to full-strength, though recently cleared Bronny James will not play.
The Trojans welcomed Kobe Johnson back from a two-game absence that included the UC Irvine loss. Johnson is averaging 14.2 points and three steals in his five appearances this season.
"(USC has) a bunch of guys (who) can make plays," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said in his postgame press conference on Tuesday. "Obviously Boogie, and then Collier, the freshman, is quite a talent. And they've got some great experience."
Gonzaga's experience includes transfers like Graham Ike, an addition from Wyoming, averaging 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Veteran point guard Ryan Nembhard, a transfer from Creighton, is averaging 13 points and 5.3 assists per game.
--Field Level Media