For the past two weeks, when the pieces finally started to fit for USC, Boogie Ellis had been the glue, a once-striped point guard finally coming into his own as the engine of a suddenly rising attack.
But as those pieces began to fall apart for USC on Thursday, the senior point guard had to pull off a sputtering attack alone, firing one 3-pointer after another, emptying his tank until only fumes remained. It wouldn’t be enough as USC eventually broke down despite its star, losing to Arizona87-81.
An otherwise lifeless transgression wouldn’t stop Ellis from pushing the Trojans further on their own. He had set another career high in the process, scoring 35 points and knocking down six threes in a heroic effort.
Still, it was no use. Any answer would see Arizona throwing his own full-throated response, using all of his guns to overpower USC, who have now clinched the No. 3 seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament.
Meanwhile, the Trojans were left with only Ellis, who had little help elsewhere. Drew Peterson struggled with a back injury and finished with just five points. Of the USC starters, only Kobe Johnson succeeded more.
This was not the kind of performance the Trojans had hoped for, with a chance to make a major statement with their tournament resume.
Everything clicked for USC coming up on Thursday. The Trojans rolled into the final week of the regular season on a four-game winning streak, finally firing on all cylinders and finally sitting on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
They were searing from the deep during that stretch, knocking down nearly half of their last 100 attempts from 3-point range. They dominated defensively, holding those four opponents to just 37%. And their senior point guard played the best basketball of his college career just as it was winding down.
But this week, Ellis still couldn’t shake the bitter taste left over from USC’s defeat in Tucson. He vowed to be more aggressive and to carry the Trojans on his back if necessary.
He wasted no time fulfilling that vow Thursday. Ellis shot out confidently, scoring 11 of USC’s first 16 points.
The problem for USC was that no one else got the memo. Drew Peterson, the Trojans’ second leading scorer, had zero points going into halftime. The rest of USC’s starting lineup combined to shoot 1 out of 9.
And by then, Ellis’ aggressive approach was already having unintended consequences. The point guard secured his third foul with over two minutes left in the first half.
USC again had no answer to Arizona’s size, even as it cycled through several lineups in search of a . Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis got his way on the Trojans’ frontcourt, forcing USC to keep adjusting its approach – to no avail. Tubelis finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, once again punishing USC on every level of its defense.
The Trojans may see the Wildcats again soon, with Arizona locked in as No. 2 in the conference tournament. They need more than Ellis to make the statement they wanted to make Thursday night.