(11) Utah Utes (-12, 129.5 o/u) at USC Trojans
An ostensible Pac-12 mismatch is on tap for this afternoon, as the No. 11 Utah Utes (16-4, 6-2 Pac-12) travel to southern California to meet the young and struggling USC Trojans (9-11, 1-7 Pac-12) at the Galen Center (2:30 p.m. Eastern).
The Utes were once ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation, but have dropped two of their last four games and now stand to drop out of the top-15 when the new rankings come out. Utah’s loss to now-No. 6 Arizona (69-51) two weeks ago was a wake up call for the team, as they were run out of the stadium by a hungrier and more athletic Wildcats team.
The Utes rebounded with back-to-back wins against Washington and Washington State, but then laid another egg against a middling UCLA team, losing 69-59. Utah’s normally stingy defense (which is 12th in the nation at 57.2 PPG) had no answer for the Bruins’ Norman Powell, who scored 23 points on 9/16 shooting.
Meanwhile, Utah’s own go-to players had off nights, in particular forward Jordan Loveridge, who was just 1/8 from the field for three points.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was disappointed with his team’s effort against UCLA. “I thought they played harder than us. … We really had only about a 5-minute stretch where we played hard enough,” the coach told the Associated Press.
Tonight, the Utes will have a good chance to get back in the win column as they face a USC team that has lost five in a row, including three straight conference home games.
The Trojans are one of the youngest teams in the Pac-12 and are experiencing some growing pains against their conference foes. The Trojans only Pac-12 win this year was a 71-57 win at home over fellow cellar-dwellers Cal.
After last year’s leading scorer Byron Wesley transferred to Gonzaga in the off-season, USC came into this year without a single senior on its roster. The team is lead in scoring by two sophomores – Nikola Jovanovic (13.8 PPG) and Katin Reinhardt (12.2 PPG) – and a freshman – Jordan McLaughlin (12.3 PPG).
The Trojans suffered a heartbreaking setback their last time out, losing in triple overtime to Colorado (98-94). Reinhart and Jovanovic put up 35 and 30 points, respectively, but the Trojans couldn’t contain Buffaloes guard Askia Booker, who torched USC for 43 points (including 13 from the charity stripe).
The Trojans will have to pay special attention Utah guard Delon Wright this afternoon. The dynamic 6’5″ senior, who leads the Utes with 14.7 PPG, will pose similar matchup problems as Booker.
Utah is a big 12-point favorite today. With the team anxious to put the UCLA loss in the rearview mirror, look for the Utes to run away with this one.
(Photo credit: Neon Tommy (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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