LOS ANGELES — It took a while for Terrell Brown Jr. to decipher the 17th-ranked Trojans defense.
The Pac-12’s leading scorer finally got it going offensively in the second half, but by then the Washington men’s basketball team was behind by 20 points on its way to a 79-69 defeat against USC in front of 3,218 at Galen Center.
The Trojans, the fourth-tallest team in Division I basketball, rotated several big defenders on UW’s star 6-foot-3 point guard who had difficulties all night to get an unencumbered look at the basket.
And sure enough when Brown struggled at the start, Washington had little chance of capturing its first road win against a ranked Pac-12 team since 2009.
Brown, who entered the game sixth in the nation and first in the Pac-12 while averaging 22.1 points, finished with 23 points.
“Not just Terrell, but we had a hard time making shots, and that’s what you have to do when you’re on the road,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “And tonight was one of those times when I felt our difficulties on offense affected our defense, and that led to them getting on runs and pulling away.
“That’s the one thing you can’t have. If you’re not making shots you can’t allow them to make shots. But credit to USC; they made shots early. In the second half we kept fighting, but that deficit was too much.”
Brown finished with a team-high 23 points on 7-for-18 shooting from the field while converting 9 of 12 free throws. He also had six assists, five rebounds and five steals.
“He took some tough shots,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “I thought he got some foul calls down there that put him on the foul line. I don’t know if we bailed him out or someone else did, but he got the line 12 times tonight. We have to do a better job on their leading scorer and try to limit cheap fouls.
“(UCLA’s) Tyger Campbell came in here, and he shot 14 or 16 free throws against us. And these are smaller guys going against our bigger length. They’re shot faking and pivoting. We just got to play smarter and straight up and make them shoot over us. I think Terrell Brown is an outstanding player. He’s hard to guard one on one, and he did a good job in the second half.”
While Brown was draped and smothered by USC defenders, Emmitt Matthews Jr. carried UW’s offense and finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
However, it wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace on a night when the remaining UW players tallied 26 points on 7-for-27 shooting.
“Whoever can pick it up will pick it up,” Matthews said. “For me personally, I want to go out there and help us win. I know it’s hard for (Brown) sometimes. He kind of feels like he’s alone out there maybe sometimes. I just feel like as one of the older guys … tonight it was for me to score the ball. But it wasn’t enough for us to win.”
The Huskies have struggled all season to find alternative scoring options other Brown, and their offensive deficiencies were painfully evident against USC, which held them to 36.7% shooting from the field, including 6 of 16 on three-pointers.
Washington was hoping to get back senior guard Daejon Davis, who hasn’t played since Feb. 6 due to a right-shoulder injury and said this week that he would play Thursday.
However, Davis remained in Seattle and missed his third consecutive game.
“We miss him,” Hopkins said. “We just do. Daejon gives us another ballhandler out there. He gives us experience and leadership. He’s a guy that can bring the ball up and take some of that pressure off Terrell. But we have to find a way to make up for that loss.”
The Huskies, which fell to 13-11 overall and 8-6 in the Pac-12, have lost three of their past four games entering Saturday’s game at No. 13 UCLA.
Meanwhile, USC (22-4, 11-4 Pac-12) was buoyed by the return of Isaiah Mobley, who missed the previous two games after breaking his nose Feb. 5.
Mobley finished with 12 points and eight assists. Senior forward Chevez Goodwin did most of the damage and tallied a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds.
Drew Peterson added 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds for USC.
Washington kept pace with USC for about 10 minutes until the Trojans used their superior size on the front line to take control.
Cole Bajema drained a three-pointer to tie it at 20 with 9:11 left in the first half.
On their next possession, the Huskies had a chance to take the lead before Jamal Bey lost the ball, which led to a USC fast-break layup and the start of a momentum-swinging run.
USC outscored UW 22-5 in the final 8½ minutes of the first half, including 11 consecutive points, to take a 42-25 lead into the break.
Washington, went scoreless for nearly four minutes before halftime, shot 34.6% from the field and 3 of 10 on three-pointers in the first half.
Meanwhile, USC connected on 53.1% of its shots, including 4 of 8 from deep, and 4 of 4 at the free throw line.
In the second half, the Trojans stretched their lead to 23 points (56-33) with 16:13 left and were up 64-41 at the 13:11 mark when Washington went on an 11-0 run to cut its deficit to 12 at 64-52 with 9:53 remaining.
The Huskies never got closer that rest of the way.
“When you’re trying to get a road win against a ranked team, you can’t have lapses,” Hopkins said. “We had a lapse late in the first half, and that cost us.”