USC keeps upper hand over UCLA in the field and creates leverage

Making the Final Four in 2022, a year after losing Evan Mobley to the NBA, has never been a particularly likely outcome for USC basketball. It’s an ambitious goal, but no one thinks it’s likely or expected.

USC is still in a construction process; not rebuild, but patiently build a stronger, more robust program that will eventually rise to the heights of Arizona and UCLA. The Wildcats are in position to be a No. 1 seed for this NCAA Tournament. UCLA made the Final Four last year and consistently carries Final Four expectations.

USC hasn’t earned those expectations yet, but the Trojans are trying to make it happen. It’s not a silver bullet, but the larger plan needs to move forward.

A great way to achieve this forward movement: Keep beating UCLA.

The Trojans and Andy Enfield have beaten Mick Cronin’s Bruins five straight. There is no better way to take advantage of the recruitment and transfer portal than to win on the pitch.

Enfield can certainly sell USC basketball — and more specifically, the idea that the 2021 Elite Eight run was no fluke — from a position of greater strength after defeating Cronin yet again. This is exactly how a program demonstrates endurance and shows that it is not a fluke or a flash in the pan.

There are some obvious needs for Enfield and USC in the Portal, things we’ve discussed over the course of this season. USC needs an overthrown shooter. Trojans need a more reliable bench depth. They need players who can create good shots and offense when other players are struggling or when half-court sets fail.

Enfield knows how to recruit long, long defender-rebounders. If it can improve on its recruiting and transfer portal acquisitions of highly skilled offensive threats, USC can take off and reach a point where it is steadily competing for No. 1 seeds, Pac-12 titles and the Final Fours.

The Trojans aren’t quite there, but every win over UCLA brings them closer to a place where they can raise their ceiling and become even more of a staple in the top tier of West Coast and national college basketball.

We’ll see if USC and Enfield can build on their success against UCLA for even bigger and brighter transfer gate acquisitions in the upcoming offseason.

The Trojans have built on their 2021 Elite Eight run. Now they must build on their continued success in 2022 against UCLA and the NCAA Tournament berth they are almost certain to secure.