Los Angeles, CA– On Wednesday night the UC Irvine Anteaters headed north to face the USC Trojans with hopes of getting a crucial non-conference win to help boost their NCAA tournament resume. The Anteaters were also looking for their first win against a AP Top 10 opponent since 1988. The upset attempt seemed possible, especially after a tough and gritty first half performance from the Big West team. UC-Irvine jumped out to a 36-28 lead, but their efforts came up short as USC rallied past in the second half to claim the win 66-61.
The opening minutes saw both teams sluggish, as they both missed their first several shots. The offense picked up with Trojan big man Isaiah Mobley, who once again showed his versatility in the open floor, gathering a defensive rebound then bringing the ball up to hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The Anteaters offense was jumpstarted by Guard D.J. Davis who scored eight of his team’s 9-0 run. The run gave confidence to the Anteaters who played with more intensity and fire than USC did at this point in the game. USC struggled to get much going and were flat throughout the first half. A major factor towards the Trojans deficit was the carelessness with the ball, turning the ball over eight times, with some of the turnovers being unforced. UC Irvine also caused Boogie Ellis to have his worst overall game of the season, being a non-factor from the start. Ellis only had five points and a season-low one assist in the game. USC also made mistakes on the defensive end, fouling a 3-point jump shooter twice.
Besides the impressive defense from UC-Irvine, the play of senior Collin Welp was the main difference for his team in the half. Welp had 11 points in the half and controlled the tempo in the half court, patiently operating from the top of the key and finding the best shot for himself or his teammates. Welp displayed nice touch from mid-range throughout the game and used all of his 6-9, 225-pound body to score over the outstretched arms of Mobley or Chevez Goodwin.
USC came out of halftime with more energy and focused on getting the ball more to their athletic big men. Mobley played more aggressively on offense, attacking the basket, and collecting second-chance opportunities for the Trojans. Goodwin did the same and the pair finished with eight offensive rebounds. Goodwin’s length also served as an issue for the Anteaters, as they were held to only four points as a team at the 12:00 minute mark. USC took the lead back with a Mobley shot near the basket and went up 45-42 at the eight-minute media timeout. From there, the two teams stayed even, trading baskets, until Goodwin had an old fashioned three-point play, giving USC a six-point lead. UC-Irvine maintained their composure, fighting to the end and came within two points again when Welp made a scoop-shot layup off the glass with english. Despite the efforts from Welp and Power Forward Austin Johnson, who had a game high four blocks, the Trojans were able to hold off the Anteaters, defeating them for their 11th straight win to the start the season.
The Trojans were led by Goodwin (23 points) on 8-of-13 shooting and Mobley (22 points), with 12 boards. Welp led UC-Irvine with his best offensive game, scoring 24 points, connecting on 10-of-25. Neither team had much success from the 3-point line. UC-Irvine shot 23.5 percent (4-of-17) and USC shot similarly (3-of-13). The Trojans won the game not with their outside shooting, but with their production in the paint and by limiting their turnovers to just three in the second half. The Anteaters also got in foul trouble, committing 21 fouls as a team.
USC (11-0,1-0) is off to their best season start since the 2017 campaign when they started 14-0. The Trojans look to remain undefeated before entering the grind of Pac-12 play after the New Year. They face non-conference opponents in Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State in their next two contests. UC-Irvine (5-3, 0-0) heads east to face Duquesne and Buffalo before they start their Big West conference schedule.