As the drought approached seven minutes, disaster knocked at USC’s door.
Shots simply refused to fall. Errant passes flew inexplicably out of bounds. Turnovers piled up at an alarming clip. Any rhythm the Trojans had found on their two-game Rocky Mountain trip apparently had been lost upon the team landing in Los Angeles. The first crowd at Galen Center in more than a month could only look on in confusion at a team that had looked like one of the nation’s best the last time it played in front of home fans.
Nothing was working Monday night until freshman Reese Dixon-Waters caught a pass just behind the three-point arc, 14 minutes into one of USC’s worst starts in recent memory. The Trojans had lost nearly as many turnovers (eight) as they had scored points (10). They had missed 11 straight from the field over nearly seven scoreless minutes, spotting Arizona State, one of the Pac-12 Conference’s worst teams, an early 12-point lead.
That’s when the wide-open freshman lifted up from long range and bid impending disaster adieu.
Dixon-Waters’ three-pointer was all it took to finally open the floodgates, and from there there was nothing to stop the Trojans’ surge as USC rolled to a 78-56 victory over Arizona State that hardly looked assured through most of the first half.
A leaky offense was suddenly raging by the second, riding a wave of momentum that it found in those closing minutes of the first half. USC flew past Arizona State and never looked back. The Trojans clamped down on defense and dominated the boards, finishing with a staggering 49-24 advantage on the glass.
For the second consecutive game, Drew Peterson led USC (17-2, 7-2 Pac-12) in scoring, following up a 23-point performance against Utah with 16 points against Arizona State (6-11, 2-5). Chevez Goodwin, Isaiah Mobley and Max Agbonkpolo each added 12 points as the Trojans came alive late.
But until Dixon-Waters hit one three-pointer, then another, and Mobley followed with one three-pointer, then another, what eventually became a runaway victory seemed more likely to end in an inexplicable defeat. Instead, after nearly seven scoreless minutes, it took just two minutes to erase Arizona State’s lead for good.
For USC, it followed a pattern of less-than-stellar starts at home since the Trojans’ lengthy layoff through December, a pattern the team hoped it had kicked last week with a sweep of Colorado and Utah.
Just four days earlier, USC’s season stood at an early crossroads in Colorado. After its undefeated start was interrupted by a COVID-19 pause, the Trojans lost two of four heading into a Rocky Mountain trip. Each of the previous three seasons, USC was swept on that trip.
But USC ended a seven-game losing streak to Colorado and completed the sweep in Utah two days later, riding high as it returned home. Only for everything to fall flat at the start Monday.
That slump, though, would only last roughly 14 minutes. Arizona State, playing without its suspended coach Bobby Hurley, would come apart, and USC would get rolling soon after, refusing to stop until a 12-point deficit had been transformed into a resounding 22-point victory and the home crowd, back after more than a month away, had something to celebrate.