By Christian Siagian
Los Angeles -- The high-octane UCLA Bruins and their talented freshman may be getting the headlines around town for their undefeated play this season, but there is another local team that could also make some noise in March, as coach Andy Enfield's unbeaten USC Trojans have continued to surprise as well.
At Hoophall LA 2016 on Saturday at Staples Center, USC defeated the BYU Cougars, 91-84, with a thoroughly efficient performance from the game’s Most Valuable Player, point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who scored 24 points of 8-12 shooting.
BYU started hot with a 12-2 run powered by their big frontcourt. The Cougars, who came in as the number two team in rebounding, were stronger inside and were led by center Eric Mika. Mika scored 29 points and pulled down 9 rebounds, despite being in foul trouble and playing only 28 minutes. Mika impressively was able to get his shots off despite being guarded by the Trojans' athletic big man Chimezie Metu, who has been pegged as an NBA prospect.
After a strong start however, BYU could not maintain its hold on the game, as USC eventually got going. USC climbed back by using its speed, creating turnovers, and then converting those turnovers into fast break points.
In addition, the Trojans also hit outside shots to keep BYU on their heels, as the Cougars were having a hard time guarding penetration while keeping an eye on USC's three-point shooters. In the first half particularly, Shaqquan Aaron hit 3 out of 4 three-pointers. He eventually finished with a career-high 19 points.
The Cougars also struggled to shoot from outside (only 3-16 from three-point range), allowing the Trojans’ 2-3 zone defense to pack it in and cause BYU trouble on offense. By halftime, the Trojans had a comfortable 39-32 lead.
Although the Trojans took control and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half, the game did get tighter, as BYU closed the deficit to 80-75.
However, with 1:18 to go, USC freshman De'Anthony Melton hit a three-pointer that stopped the Cougars' momentum. He then made a few plays -- two assists, a rebound, and a free throw -- to put the game out of reach.
With the win, USC remains undefeated (8-0) and will face Pepperdine at home on December 11. BYU dropped to 5-3 on the season.