They call it the zone.
It’s that mystical time when everything is going right.
Elijah Stewart knows how it feels.
“Everything just feels good,” the sharpshooter said.
Only good? How about outstanding? Exceptional? Wow?
“It feels like your wrist is clicking and your elbow is locked in the way it is supposed to,” he said.
Everything is in proper alignment operating with a smoothness, rhythm and precision.
“Just everything feels natural,” he said.
That’s how it was for USC star Stewart on Saturday when he made nine of his 10 shots, including all five 3-point attempts, while scoring a seemingly effortless 28 points as USC won a critical Pacific-12 Conference game against Oregon State at Galen Center.
It began with a couple of dunks on passes from point guard Jordan McLaughlin.
This got Stewart’s juices flowing.
“The goal just got bigger,” he said.
It was hard, almost impossible, for him to miss. He could have been tossing the ball into the ocean.
Somehow, one shot, a mid-range jumper, did not go in.
“I kind of short-armed that one,” he acknowledged.
As easy as he made it look, there are times when the up-and-down speed of the game gums up the works. That and the menacing presence of intense defenders.
One of the subplots for the Trojans was the absence of starting power forward Bennie Boatwright, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder. Boatwright, lost for the season with a knee injury, joins guard De’Anthony Melton, who was suspended due to possible NCAA infractions, as a spectator.
“You take 40 percent of your starting lineup out,” Coach Andy Enfield said in response to a question.
Take 40 percent of your starting lineup out and you have problems.
He was not groaning. At least not audibly.
“You need other players to step up, and they’re capable of doing that,” he insisted.
“(The) next person has got to step up,” McLaughlin said.
There was a sound of determination, not desperation, in his voice.
No Trojan is more capable of filling the breach than Stewart, a veteran of big games dating to his time at prep powerhouse Westchester. From the day he arrived at USC, Enfield identified him as “a tremendous shooter.”
That’s tremendous shooter as in two more 3-point baskets and he will set the USC career record at 233.
“I hope he’ll set it the next game,” Enfield said.
Truth patrol: Enfield will be a happy camper if Stewart obliterates the record, held by Lodrick Stewart, no relation, Wednesday at Colorado.
This USC team has been an enigma. Ranked No. 10 nationally before a game was played due to a load of returning talent, depth and respect earned with a 26-10 record last season, the Trojans have been up and down this season.
Stewart’s career has been a mirror image of the team. He has been the model of consistently inconsistent, very good at times and very ordinary at others.
Just this season, he has scored 23 points followed by games of 4, 19, 20 and 20. His current run has been 20, 3, 7, 12, 28.
McLaughlin spoke about the need to “play loose, have fun and to be aggressive.”
That’s what Stewart did against Oregon State.
He is a nice young man, an accommodating young man who, if a couple of shots do not go in, is quick to defer to teammates. This is a case when being an accommodating teammate is not being a good teammate. The Trojans need him to score.
What he needs in this USC time of need is an infusion of Kobe Bryant’s always determined give-me-the-ball-and-clear-the-way approach. He needs to be the guy who asks himself and his teammates why he had only 10 shots when he was so hot against the Beavers. He needs to see himself as the take-charge guy he was against Oregon State.
That’s the sort of zone USC needs to salvage the season.
Clearing out the mini-notebook …
For posterity – An email commenting on the the addition of Bobby Beathard to the Pro Football Hall of Fame notes “Bob B 55” is etched about a foot high in the sidewalk next to the house where he grew up in El Segundo. …
Numbers game – It made sense at the start of the season to suggest a 35-win season would be a nice step forward for the Lakers. With 25 games remaining and 23 wins in hand, they need to go 12-13 to hit the mark. Are you holding your breath for that to happen? …
Bottom line – Sad to see Marty Wilson, a good man, lose his job as Pepperdine basketball coach. Facilities make the job in Malibu at least doubly tough.