LOS ANGELES (AP) — Playing their first game without injured forward Bennie Boatwright, Southern California showed it can survive.
Jordan McLaughlin scored 24 points and the Trojans defeated BYU 91-84 on Saturday night in the second game of the inaugural Hoophall LA doubleheader at Staples Center.
No. 8 Gonzaga beat 16th-ranked Arizona 69-62 in the first game.
Shaqquan Aaron added a season-high 19 points and Elijah Stewart had 16 points for the Trojans (8-0), who equaled their best start since 2000-01. They joined Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and UCLA as the only West Coast teams that are still undefeated.
“We’re a better team now early than we were early last year because of our defense,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re able to defend. We had 11 steals. This team is very unique because whether we go big or small we’re able to defend.”
Boatwright, who was averaging 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds, hurt his knee on Wednesday and will be out six weeks.
“When a man’s down, everybody has to step it up,” Aaron said.
Eric Mika scored a career-high 29 points, TJ Haws added 16 points and Nick Emery had 15 points for the Cougars (5-3), who have lost three of four.
The Cougars controlled the boards 41-34.
“One of the big things was to keep their bigs off the boards. We knew their bigs were super active,” Mika said. “It was just tough to cover all those guys, to be in all those places at the same time. They did a heck of a job crashing the boards.”
The Trojans stretched a seven-point halftime lead into a 15-point advantage to open the second half. McLaughlin and Stewart combined to score 10 straight points.
The Cougars reeled off eight in a row to close to 55-47 with Emery hitting a 3-pointer and Mika scoring the other five.
Chimezie Metu scored four straight to keep the Trojans ahead 77-64.
The Cougars outscored USC 11-3 to close to 80-75, making seven of eight free throws in the run. De’Anthony Melton answered with a 3-pointer for the Trojans, who hung on after leading by 16 early in the second half.
“We just stayed aggressive. We were missing a lot of easy shots there,” Aaron said. “We didn’t hang our heads. We let our defense become our offense and got some easy transition baskets.”
BYU: The Cougars began with a bang, going on a 12-2 run to start the game. They couldn’t manage another run the rest of the half and trailed 39-32 at the break. They had 11 of their 16 turnovers in the first half.
USC: The Trojans borrowed a page from BYU, starting the second half on a 10-2 run that extended their lead to 15 points.
BYU: Emery has hit a 3-pointer in all eight games and he’s scored in double figures in seven of eight games. … Mika has five 20-plus point games so far. … The Cougars are 1-1 playing in NBA areas. They beat Utah State in the Jazz’s arena on Wednesday, lost to USC in the Lakers’ arena and will play Illinois in the Bulls’ arena on Dec. 17.
USC: The Trojans lead the all-time series 7-3, having won the last two matchups. … Boatwright sprained his medial collateral ligament in his left knee against San Diego. … Their seven wins in November were a school record for the month.
BYU: Hosts Weber State on Wednesday.
USC: The Trojans host Pepperdine on Dec. 11, giving them seven straight days without a game, their longest break of the season.