The red foam fingers sat on every seat of the Galen Center’s lower bowl, each flashing three digits, as if tempting fate. Few in the conference had been worse from three-point range this season than USC, while no Pac-12 team in conference had been better from deep than Stanford.
It provided a particularly daring pretext ahead of a must-have conference game for the Trojans, a team firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble. But as it turns out, the foam fingers didn’t tempt fate so much as predict it in an 85-75 win for USC.
“We’re pretty good when we get shots,” said USC coach Andy Enfield.
Rarely had USC (19-8). this offensively good. Only once in the past four seasons have the Trojans been as scorching hot from three-point range as Saturday. Even as Stanford (11-16) shot better than usual from deep, USC couldn’t keep up, showering the Cardinal with 13 three-pointers on the season, the most since January 2020.
The barrage of the night began, oddly enough, with a failed attempt from behind the arch by Boogie Ellis. But as Stanford flew into an early lead, the USC point guard didn’t have much trouble shrugging off his initial miss. Neither do the rest of the Trojans’ archers.
USC hit nine of the next 14 out of three – all before halftime. Five of the nine belonged to Ellis, who had never made more than six in a collegiate game. Since USC dominated from deep, it hardly mattered that it got its defensive center tough, Joshua Morgan, back from injury.
Stanford had held firm through that first half despite the barrage, cutting USC’s lead to two with less than three minutes to halftime. That’s when Ellis really came to life.
The point guard hit a three, then on the ensuing quick break he called for the heat check and fired another, which buried to give USC the breathing room it needed.
He would finish with 33 points, marking a career high for the second time in a month. But he would be prouder, he said, of his seven assists, which were also a career highlight.
Ellis certainly wasn’t the only Trojan to confidently fire from long range on Saturday. Building on his career night against California, Drew Peterson lost a trio of threes en route to 21 points. Returning from a four-game absence, Reese Dixon-Waters added two from deep, both in the second half. Oziyah Sellers and Kobe Johnson each added their own three-pointer.
“We’re all threats,” Ellis said. “They have to guard me, so I just tried to break them up a bit.”
It was a particularly positive sign for a USC offense prone to long perimeter outages. The fact that it came immediately after the Trojans sank a dozen three-pointers in the victory over California made it especially noteworthy.
Those 12 threes would remain a season-high over two nights, as USC tied that total with more than a quarter of the game left against Stanford.
Deep’s display would slow down after the half, as Stanford cheated more than usual toward the three-point line, leaving the track open for USC to drive. The Trojans would gladly obey, taking what they could in the paint, earning 12 out of 12 on the Charity Stripe.
They would only fire one last shot from behind the bow for the last 10 minutes. But Ellis would make that last one count, by raising it from the top of the key.
As it whipped, the arena roared and waved its red foam fingers in triumph.