RENO, Nev. (AP) — Southern California passed its most challenging test so far this season with a 76-66 win over Nevada on Saturday night.
Nick Rakocevic scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Daniel Utomi added 12 points and Elijah Weaver scored 11 for USC.
After Nevada took a 21-18 lead with 8:33 left in the first half, USC went on a 13-0 run over the next five minutes and never trailed again.
USC’s size advantage proved too much for the Wolf Pack and its senior-laden backcourt. The Trojans (4-0) outrebounded Nevada 42-37 and outscored the Wolf Pack 42-10 in the paint.
“We thought our interior players were a little more experienced and a little better players overall,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “We thought we really needed to dominate the paint and we did. Give our three bigs credit. They all played very good basketball.”
Rakocevic, a 6-foot-11 senior, made 10 of 15 from the field. Onyeka Okongwu grabbed 11 rebounds and Ethan Anderson had eight assists.
“I think I could have played better,” Rakocevic said. “I had some close shots I should've hit, missed some free throws, but overall I think we all played very aggressive.”
Nevada (2-2) hit 11 of 36 (30.6%) from 3-point range and shot 32.8% (20 of 61) overall.
“I thought we took bad shots,” Nevada head coach Steve Alford said. “Of our four games, we took more bad shots this game (than any other game). That led to transition points (for USC). Transition hurt us because of bad shots. We know our offense is something that is just in the making and has to continue to get better. So, I can live with that now, but it’s hurting our defense as well.”
USC committed only eight turnovers and forced 11.
“I think we came out here and used our size advantage and played super aggressive,” Rakocevic said. “We played good defense and didn't turn the ball over.”
Nevada guard Jazz Johnson scored 26 points, one shy of his career high, on 8-of-18 shooting, including 6 of 14 from beyond the arc. Lindsey Drew added 12 points.
The game saw four lead changes in the first half and USC took a 40-35 lead into the break.
“It was our first road game and we wanted to come out with a lot of energy, aggressive and be tough,” said Onyeka Okongwu, who played in his first collegiate road game Saturday. “I love playing on the road because I love the atmosphere and the hostility.”
USC: The Trojans stayed undefeated in their biggest test of the season so far, winning in front of 9,833 fans in Reno with three freshmen playing their first collegiate road games. “I was telling (the freshmen) make sure you guys stay composed. …We just have to stay focused because it’s their first road game,” Rakocevic said. “I remember when I was a freshman. Overall, I think they played great.”
NEVADA: The Wolf Pack lost their second of four home games this season. Nevada was undefeated at home (15-0) last season.
Nevada’s 11 of 36 from three didn’t discourage head coach Steve Alford after the game. “I’ll take 11-for-36 every game,” said the former UCLA head coach, who moved to 11-5 all-time against USC. “We want to shoot 3s and we made 11…the difference was the paint. They got tipins, they got layups, that was the difference.”
SINGY DEFENSE IN SECOND HALF
USC held Nevada to 23% shooting and 3 of 16 from beyond the arc in the second half. “That’s really good defense on our part,” Enfield said. “I’m really proud of our young men. Our freshmen are getting the hang of it and our upper class really carried us down the stretch.”
USC: Returns to Galen Center for a two-game home stand against Pepperdine on Tuesday and Temple on Friday.
NEVADA: After playing its first four games at home, the Wolf Pack hits the road: at Davidson on Tuesday followed by three games in the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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