Southern California returns to the Galen Center to host Montana on Saturday, three days after needing overtime in its season-opening win over California Baptist.
The Trojans (1-0) pulled away from Cal Baptist after a back-and-forth 40 minutes of regulation, thanks to an impressive debut by freshman Evan Mobley. The 5-star, 7-foot recruit finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while his sophomore brother, 6-foot-10 Isaiah, posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“Evan played a solid game. Defensively he turned it up late in the game and in overtime,” USC coach Andy Enfield said in the postgame press conference following the 95-87 win. “Offensively we went to him a lot and he made some great plays.”
The Mobleys powered a 48-28 rebounding edge against Cal Baptist, and the brothers’ size could be a factor against Montana, which ranked No. 289 nationally in rebounding margin (minus-2) a season ago.
The Grizzlies are tipping off their season on Saturday and feature a new-look lineup. Gone is Sayeed Pridgett, who averaged a shade below 20 points per game last season. Montana also replaces its only other double-digit scorer from a season ago, Kendal Manuel (15.1 ppg).
“That’s a transition we’ve had to go through,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said at Big Sky Conference media day. “We’ve fluctuated how we play, what we do offensively, defensively, and we brought Mike (Steadman) in.”
Steadman, a 6-foot-10 transfer from San Jose State, is expected to make his Grizzlies debut after sitting out last season as a redshirt. Steadman, who said at Big Sky media day that he lost 35 pounds since arriving at Montana, averaged 13.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in his 2018-19 season at San Jose State.
The Grizzlies shot particularly well from beyond the 3-point arc last season, ranking No. 54 nationally with a 35.8 percent average. Josh Vazquez, who knocked down 33 of his 93 attempts from outside, returns.
Continuing to connect from long range could be critical for Montana on Saturday if the Trojans’ opener was any indication. Cal Baptist made a school-record 20 of 41 3-point attempts on Wednesday.
Enfield said the Trojans “challenged their shots better when the game got tight.”
Last season, USC held opponents to 31.3 percent shooting from 3-point range, albeit with a much different lineup. Of the five starters on Wednesday, only Ethan Anderson started regularly last season. Evan Mobley and transfers Drew Peterson and Tahj Eaddy are all newcomers this year.
–Field Level Media