Star freshmen set for battle as Stanford hosts USC

Jan 14, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans forward Evan Mobley (4) shoots a free throw against the Washington Huskies during the first half at Galen Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the top freshmen in the Pacific-12 Conference will go head-to-head for the first time as collegians Thursday afternoon when Southern Cal visits Stanford.

USC’s Evan Mobley, the consensus No. 3 national recruit in the high school Class of 2020, and top-10-ranked Ziaire Williams of Stanford will be the featured attractions in the duel between upper-division Pac-12 teams that are coming off losses.

The two went head-to-head as preps in the Los Angeles suburb of La Verne last season, with Mobley leading Rancho Christian over Williams’ Sierra Canyon team 85-81 in overtime in the finals of The Classic at Damien tournament in December 2019.

Williams outscored Mobley 28-16 in the game, but the USC recruit earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors.

They were supposed to have already met this season as well, but the scheduled Pac-12 opener between Stanford (8-5, 4-3) and USC (11-3, 5-2) had to be postponed for COVID-19 reasons.

Mobley currently leads the Pac-12 in rebounds (8.6) and blocks (3.0), while also ranking fifth in field goal percentage (59.6) and eighth in scoring (15.9).

He has recorded six double-doubles in his 14 games, including 12 points and a season-high-tying 13 rebounds in USC’s 58-56 loss at Oregon State on Tuesday.

Mobley had a chance to draw the Trojans even in the final seconds, but he didn’t take a shot in heavy traffic near the hoop. Instead, he passed to Drew Peterson, who misfired on a potential game-winning 3-pointer.

“Ideally, we’d like to execute a little better than that,” USC coach Andy Enfield noted. “We had our best player with the ball under the basket. We didn’t finish it and unfortunately the ball didn’t go in.”

The loss was USC’s first in its past seven games.

Stanford has dropped two straight, having been swept in a trip to Utah and Colorado last week. Williams scored 17 points in each game.

He ranks 15th in the Pac-12 in rebounds (5.7) and 18th in scoring (12.5).

Williams had six of Stanford’s 15 turnovers in Saturday’s loss at Colorado. Stanford coach Jerod Haase took part of the blame.

“I thought we made plays, especially in the second half, that were just not seeing our teammates or were not making those extra passes,” Haase said. “We need to make sure that (we) not only have a game plan, but it’s my job as a coach to make sure we execute the game plan.”

(Field Level Media contributed to this report)