USC dunks its way to 82-59 win over Santa Clara
BY JILL PAINTER LOPEZ
Dec. 15, 2017
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nick Rakocevic took advantage of his first start of the season, helping USC dominate as part of a new-look trio of big men in the starting lineup.
Rakocevic, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu all had double-doubles to lead USC to an 82-59 win over Santa Clara on Thursday night. They combined for 57 points and 31 rebounds
They got to the rim with ease and Santa Clara never had an answer.
"It's hard to guard three 7-footers," Rakocevic said.
Rakocevic (6-11), Metu (6-11) and Boatwright (6-10) aren't quite 7-foot but they sure played that way.
USC (5-3) snapped a three-game losing streak and did it in fun fashion with dunk after dunk after dunk.
"We've been trying to tell coach," Metu said of starting three big men. "We've been trying to convince him."
The move was made more out of necessity. Rakocevic was in the starting lineup because Elijah Stewart was late for a few things and as punishment did not start, according to USC coach Andy Enfield.
Boatwright had a game-high 21 points and added 11 rebounds. Metu had 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Rakocevic had his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"I thought they did a good job rebounding the ball and getting in their stance," Enfield said. "Santa Clara spread us out with four or five guards. ... Tonight we saw flashes of guys who were more like their normal selves than they had been the last couple of games."
Guard Jordan McLaughlin has carried the load this season and continued to make plays for others. He had nine points and 10 assists. Everyone else was grooving. But Thursday's win was all about the big men.
Josip Vrankic scored 15 points for Santa Clara (3-7), which lost its second straight game. Santa Clara shot just 31.3 percent from the field.
The Trojans started the game with a 10-0 run and never looked back. Santa Clara missed its first five shots before Shaquille Walters scored a basket and was fouled for a 3-point play. The Broncos never really pressured the Trojans and trailed 37-22 at halftime.
Early in the second half, Rakocevic went streaking down the lane uncontested and threw down a two-handed dunk. He was called for a technical foul after a layup extended USC's lead to 50-35. The technical foul was one of few miscues for the Trojans.
"I felt I got fouled on that one and screamed, 'And one.' That was it," Rakocevic said. "I had to live with it. Definitely not trying to get any more of those this season."
Rakocevic is usually playing in foul trouble, and that's something he is trying to be more cognizant of this season.
"We try to tell him in practice. Obviously, he doesn't listen," Metu said with a laugh.
Rakocevic and Metu were having fun, and that's what winning does for a team. USC's losing streak spanned nearly three weeks. They had to stew in those three losses.
"It felt good," Rakocevic said. "Losing three in a row was tough. Hopefully, now we get on a little bit of a streak and guys who are in slumps try to figure it out. We're looking forward to Sunday (against UC Santa Barbara)."
USC's block party continued. The Trojans rank 23rd in the country with 5.7 blocks per game and swatted another 10.
Metu threw down a two-handed dunk in the second half with no Santa Clara players around, presumably because no one wanted to be on the wrong end of a poster. It drew the praise of Rakocevic, who was jumping up and down on the bench. Both players got to the rim with ease and earned plenty of style points on dunks when they got there. Boatwright dunked, too.
Santa Clara: The Broncos had another difficult test on the road and it was good preparation for the West Coast Conference play, which starts Dec. 28 against Pepperdine.
USC: The Trojans had high hopes as they started the season with a bang at 4-0 but then lost to Texas A&M, SMU and Oklahoma. USC had a long shot attempt at the buzzer against the Sooners but it didn't fall. They didn't need any last-second heroics in this one. ... USC got started on a good note to kick off a busy stretch of six games in 12 days. Prior to that, USC played just seven games in 34 days.
Santa Clara: hosts Valparaiso on Monday.
USC: hosts UC Santa Barbara on Sunday.
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