By ANDY BUHLER
PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) – Southern California coach Andy Enfield, whose Trojans doubled their conference road win total from last season on Saturday night, acknowledged the difficulty of winning on the road in the Pac-12.
“It’s the next step for our experienced players,” Enfield said, who completed his first conference road sweep during his tenure at USC. “These are quality teams we’re beating. . I’m very proud of those (wins).”
Chimezie Metu scored a career-high 29 points, grabbed eight rebounds and Southern California shot 73.9 percent in the second half to outlast Washington State 86-77 on Saturday night for its first conference road-trip sweep since 2011.
Metu finished 12 of 14 from the field. He scored 17 points in the second half on 7-of-7 shooting.
“Early in the season we used to come out in nonconference and we’d be a little sluggish in the second half,” Metu said. “Teams would push their lead up . we just tell ourselves not to start slow.”
Jonah Mathews chipped in 18 points and six boards for the Trojans (20-4, 7-4 Pac-12).
The teams traded momentum and the lead throughout the first half. WSU made 5 of its first 11 3-point attempts, but the Trojans turned a 20-8 interior scoring advantage into a five-point halftime lead. Credit to Metu’s offensive performance, the Trojans ultimately won the interior.
Freshman Jeff Pollard played 13 second-half minutes in an attempt to offset Metu. In Washington State coach Ernie Kent’s mind, it helped the Cougars compete defensively.
“We got back into the game when (Pollard) was in there. We were able to go from zone to man, we got stops, we got out and ran,” Kent said. “I thought it changed the complexion of the game completely.”
USC got up to a 10-point lead early in the second half, but WSU stayed in it. After a Josh Hawkinson dunk with 10:17 left gave the Cougars a two-point advantage, USC responded by scoring 15 of the next 17 points to take the lead for good.
“Our players have been down double-digits 10 or 11 times this season,” Enfield said. “They just keep focusing on the game plan and play better. We didn’t play particularly well defensively.”
Ike Iroegbu finished with 22 points and nine assists, and Hawkinson had 17 points and 16 boards for the Cougars (11-12, 4-7).
Bennie Boatwright started Saturday and scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds for USC after coming off the bench the game prior. It was his second game back from a knee injury sustained Nov. 30.
“Everyone knows he can shoot the ball and score the ball, so it’s great to see him making plays for his teammates. He puts so much pressure on the defense when he can do that,” Enfield said.
Southern California: The Trojans picked up its first Pac-12 road sweep since 2011 and continue the program’s best start since 1992. As indicated in his breakout game against Washington on Thursday, USC benefited when Boatwright matched a career-high with 23 points in its win against the Huskies. Boatwright shot 5 of 10 from the field, made three 3-pointers and played 29 minutes against the Cougars on Saturday night.
Washington State: The Cougars followed up a strong 1-1 road trip last week by dropping two at home to two of the Pac-12’s better teams. After losing to No. 11 UCLA on Thursday in a game closer than the final score indicated, WSU couldn’t contain USC inside on Saturday.
USC received 29 votes in last week’s AP poll and will inch closer to another top-25 ranking after a key road sweep. The Trojans started the season 14-0 and were ranked for five consecutive weeks, where they were placed as high as No. 22. Before this season USC had not been ranked since 2008.
USC guard Shaqquan Aaron left the game in the second half after falling on his tailbone after contesting a rebound. “We’re hoping it’s nothing serious, maybe just a bone bruise,” Enfield said.
Aaron, who is averaging nine points and 3.7 rebounds, walked off the floor with the help of trainers, though he did not appear to be favoring a side.
USC: The Trojans host Oregon State Thursday and No. 13 Oregon Saturday.
Washington State: The Cougars head Southwest to face Utah Thursday then Colorado on Feb. 12.