September 22, 2015

USC's win over Arizona State about a month ago helped it surpass its 2014-15 win total. Another would improve the Trojans' chances for a conference title they've been nowhere close to competing for in the last two seasons.

The No. 23 Trojans have climbed the Pac-12 standings while building their celebrity on campus, and they seek their fourth straight win at Arizona State on Friday night.

USC (18-5, 7-3) already has two more conference victories than it combined for in the last two seasons (5-31) when it finished dead last in the Pac-12 both times.

This season has marked a complete 180 for the Trojans, who are tied in the loss column with conference-leading Oregon and seek their first four-game league win streak since Jan. 30-Feb. 14, 2013.

"At this point, people actually know who we are walking around campus," said junior guard Julian Jacobs after last week's win over UCLA. "As opposed to the last two years when you're the laughingstock of the Pac-12."

USC, which is 2-3 in conference road games, enjoyed a week-long break after its 80-61 dispatching of the Bruins on Feb. 4. Jacobs finished with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists as the Trojans scored at least 80 for the ninth time in 11 games.

They rank second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 84 per contest, but their defense has keyed the last two wins. USC limited Washington - the highest-scoring team in the conference - to 36.4 percent shooting in a 98-88 win Jan. 30 before holding UCLA to 34.8. The Trojans are 9-1 when opponents shoot worse than 40 percent and 15-0 when they score fewer than 83 points.

Both of those records were improved with USC's 75-65 win over Arizona State on Jan. 7, which gave the Trojans 13 victories - one more than all of last season.

The Sun Devils scored 25 points in the first half and only shot 38.2 percent thanks to a late rally. Jacobs played through a twisted ankle to finish with 15 points and five assists and Bennie Boatwright added 14 and seven rebounds for USC.

The Trojans have won the last two in this series, including a Pac-12 tournament victory last season, but the Sun Devils have taken three in a row and seven of the last eight in Tempe.

As enjoyable as Pac-12 play has been for USC, that's as poorly as it has gone for Arizona State (13-11, 3-8). The Sun Devils are in danger of their first losing conference season since going 6-12 in 2011-12.

They did snap a two-game skid with Saturday's 67-55 victory at Washington State, setting them up with an opportunity for their first conference winning streak Friday. Arizona State shot just 36.1 percent against the Cougars but forced 17 turnovers.

The Sun Devils, who have lost three of their last five at Wells-Fargo Arena, made 7 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half against Washington State to extend a trend of better shooting from long range. Arizona State shot just 31.9 percent from long range through its first 19 games but has a 40.2 mark in the last four.

"We get up a lot of shots every single day," said junior guard Andre Spight. "I think that's why they've been going in."

Sophomore guard Tra Holder led the Sun Devils with 16 points against the Cougars and scored 21 against USC last month.

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