The Wildcats attempted to come back, but Porter hit two more threes to eliminate any chance of a momentum shift. The daunting score deficit remained with the Trojans ahead in the final 10 minutes of the second half, 53-33. Rakocevic continued to play the mismatch to his advantage, making 4 points in the opening minutes of the second half. Senior guard Shaqquan Aaron’s presence was felt as well. He grabbed two offensive rebounds and finished a short-range shot with strong displays of hustle. The Trojans continued to dominate the game four minutes into the second half, with Boatwright completing a double-double on an uncontested three. The Trojans took a commanding 16-7 lead, forcing Arizona to regroup and use a timeout. Afterward, USC brought in Porter, who had missed the team’s previous two games due to a suspension. He hit a 3-pointer at the first opportunity, clearly energized to be back. Porter would go on to miss two dunks and commit two fouls, although his presence was welcomed. USC had offensive contributions throughout the night from many different sources, including star senior forward and captain Bennie Boatwright. Rakocevic continued to capitalize on the size mismatch that was presented to him and racked up 12 points on 6-7 shooting. With six minutes left in the first half, the Trojans held a commanding 29-15 lead. Arizona’s offensive struggles continued as USC played lockdown defense. The Wildcats were unable to penetrate and continued to shoot threes that wouldn’t fall. USC took a commanding 36-19 lead at the end of the first half after junior guard Derryck Thornton hit a buzzer-beating 3-point shot. The remainder of the second half was highlighted by excellent shooting and stellar defense by the Trojans. USC held Arizona to a mere 27.8 percent shooting overall and 20 percent 3-point shooting. “It all starts with defense,” Rakocevic said. “If we get some stops, that allows us to create offensively.” Junior forward Nick Rakocevic led the offensive charge in the opening minutes with 6 straight points. He demonstrated effective movement of the ball by cutting past Arizona senior center Ryan Luther for uncontested layups. Even when guarded, Rakocevic used his long wingspan to lay it in at the block. USC men’s basketball defeated Arizona 80-57 at home Thursday. The victory was highlighted by overpowering first-half play and the return of freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr. “[Porter] came in and played within the flow of the offense,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “He fit in perfectly.” “We played 40 minutes of zone,” Enfield said. “Our players were rotating, helping and sliding out to the 3-point line to challenge shots.” Junior guard Jonah Mathews made a strong effort on the defensive side with a steal and subsequent 3-point play early on. In Arizona’s next run, he deflected a Wildcat pass to force a scoreless possession. Arizona would continue to turn the ball over and give USC more opportunities to extend their lead. Freshman guard Elijah Weaver runs the court and looks for his teammates against Arizona Jan. 24 at the Galen Center. (Tucker Judkins/Daily Trojan) Rakocevic ended the game with an efficient double-double of 27 points and 12 rebounds. Porter impressed in his return as well, scoring 14 points. As a whole, the team contributed to a 50 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc. The Trojans will look to carry their strong play into another home game against Arizona State this Saturday at 5 p.m.
This year, left-handers Jesus Luzardo, 21, and A.J. Puk, 24, will attempt to uphold that legacy for Oakland. The top prospects are expected to debut sometime in July after rehabbing from injury, and there are high expectations for their arrivals.The reason for optimism is obvious: Luzardo and Puk can touch the upper-90s with their fastballs, and they’re both top-20 prospects, according to Baseball America. In fact, they’ve received more hype than Zito or Gray did as minor leaguers, at least in terms of consensus prospect rankings. Luzardo put together perhaps the best pitching season in the A’s organization in 2018 (2.88 ERA with 10.6 strikeouts-per-nine), while Puk is a recent No. 6 overall draft selection.MORE: Watch ‘ChangeUp,’ a new MLB live whiparound show on DAZNThe pitchers enter the big leagues carrying greater immediate responsibility than their predecessors because of the gap right-hander Frankie Montas’ 80-game PED suspension opened in an already thin rotation and the damage closer Blake Treinen’s shoulder injury did to the team’s bullpen depth. If they can’t recharge Oakland’s depleted pitching staff — and sidelined southpaw Sean Manaea doesn’t return as hoped before the end of the season — it could dash playoff hopes for the A’s (46-39).Luzardo is scheduled to make another Triple-A rehab start Tuesday and could progress from there to his first big league outing soon after the All-Star break, according to MLB.com. Puk, meanwhile, is expected to begin his career out of the bullpen this month in a role that would limit his innings post-Tommy John surgery and add juice to Oakland’s late-inning unit. Like Gray, who transitioned from reliever to starter late in 2013 as a rookie, Puk could change roles down the stretch if needed.Jesus Luzardo working both sides of the plate for consecutive K’s pic.twitter.com/DyhjFjMZem— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) June 28, 2019These are the anchors of a second wave of promising players in the organization’s upper-minors, coming in behind the young core that pushed the team to 97 wins a year ago. Luzardo and Puk have clear MLB roles ahead, but the paths of their fellow rising prospects are less certain. Those players could provide roster flexibility to manager Bob Melvin or be trade ammunition for general manager David Forst depending on where the team stands at the deadline. MLB All-Star rosters | Futures Game roster | Celebrity softball rosterAmong the organization’s Triple-A Las Vegas standouts are middle infielders Jorge Mateo and Sheldon Neuse, each enjoying on-base plus slugging percentages above .870 and double-digit home run totals. Mateo was recently selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game for his strong first half. Franklin Barreto, another middle-of-the-diamond option, was called up to Oakland this week after right fielder Stephen Piscotty’s IL placement, though it’s unclear whether Barreto will remain with the A’s beyond the next couple of weeks. All three of the above players appear blocked from regular MLB playing time because of the entrenched presences of third baseman Matt Chapman, shortstop Marcus Semien and first baseman Matt Olson. Despite his 2019 struggles, Jurickson Profar is still locked in at second base, while Chad Pinder already occupies a utility role.As a result, Mateo, Neuse and Barreto could be shopped for further MLB pitching help should the front-office look to be aggressive with this contention window. Zack Wheeler, Marcus Stroman and Matt Boyd are among the starters reportedly on the market.But potential trade developments remain secondary to how Luzardo and Puk perform in the coming weeks. After all, the lefties are capable of delivering the season-turning production the A’s have gotten from rookie hurlers so many times before, from Zito and his easygoing confidence in 2000 to Gray’s preternatural competitive edge in 2013. If such a breakout happens again, the rest of the AL will struggle to hold Oakland back from the playoffs. On July 22, 2000, 22-year-old A’s rookie Barry Zito made his MLB debut. Three months later, he shut down the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALDS, not intimidated by a Bronx crowd that had witnessed three championships in the previous four seasons.On July 10, 2013, 23-year-old Sonny Gray made his MLB debut. Three months later, he outdueled Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the ALDS, effectively channeling the energy of 48,292 yellow-towel-waving fans at the Coliseum.