After playing well during a tough three-game stretch against Top 25 squads, Southern California now gets to face the only winless team in the Pac-10 when it visits Arizona State on Sunday.
The 22nd-ranked Trojans (19-7, 9-4) have gone 2-1 over their last three games, beating then-No. 9 Oregon 71-68 on Feb. 3 and No. 19 Arizona 80-75 on Thursday, while falling 70-65 at then-No. 2 UCLA on Feb. 7. Thursday’s victory over the Wildcats was USC’s first in Tucson since January 1985.
“This one will put a smile on my face for a while,” said Lodrick Stewart, who had 26 points despite missing practice in the preceding week because of illness.
Nick Young, who leads the Trojans with 17.4 points per game, also had 26 and Gabe Pruitt added 17. USC, which has won four of five overall, improved to 4-3 on the road.
“Nick and Gabe were outstanding,” coach Tim Floyd said. “It is the best all three of them have played.”
Arizona State (6-19, 0-14), meanwhile, is on track to become the first team ever to go winless in conference play since the Pac-10 expanded in 1978-79. The Sun Devils have lost a school-record 15 straight and have not won since a 71-66 victory over North Carolina A&T on Dec. 21.
Nonetheless, Arizona State gave UCLA a scare on Thursday, taking a 10-point lead with 11 minutes left and hanging in until the end of a 67-61 loss. Jeff Pendergraph, who ranks second on the Sun Devils with 12.3 points per game, had 14 and Christian Polk, who leads the team with 12.6 per contest, was held to nine.
“Obviously, when you have the record we did coming in and you’re facing a ranked team like UCLA, it’s easy just to bow out and give up, and I thought our guys didn’t do that,” said coach Herb Sendek, in his first season at Arizona State. “They fought hard and challenged them until the end.”
Each of Arizona State’s last five defeats have been by six points or fewer, including a 48-47 loss to then-No. 18 Washington State on Feb. 3 and a 55-51 defeat at Oregon on Feb. 8. And despite their woeful record, the Sun Devils rank among the better defensive teams in the conference with 62.8 points allowed per game.
Arizona State, though, will have a tough time avoiding making history. After Sunday’s game, the Sun Devils host Arizona before wrapping up the season with games at Stanford and California.
Arizona State has lost five of its last six against USC and three in a row at home in the series.
“Our guys are doing the best they can right now,” Sendek said before the UCLA game. “And the fact that it hasn’t been validated with a win doesn’t take away from the process.”
USC, meanwhile, is hoping to pick up some momentum as its regular season winds down. The Trojans host the Cardinal and the Golden Bears before finishing with games at Washington and Washington State.