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Runnin' Utes Rebound with Win Over USC 67-39

Utah splits the Southern California road trip, beating USC and losing to UCLA.

Utah center Jakob Poeltl (shown here against Washington) led the Utes with 14 points and nine rebounds in their 67-39 win over USC Sunday.
Utah center Jakob Poeltl (shown here against Washington) led the Utes with 14 points and nine rebounds in their 67-39 win over USC Sunday.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Utah held USC's starters to 17 points combined in a Galen Center drubbing of the hometown Trojans, 67-39. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl led the Utes with 14 points (on 6-of-7 shooting and 2-of-2 from the line), 9 rebounds, two steals, and two blocked shots.

Utah's starting forward Jordan Loveridge got off to a quick start, scoring eight points in the first half, including a pair of threes. But Loveridge cooled off in the second period, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds, and a steal.

The real story of the game for Utah was what head coach Larry Krystkowiak established with the Runnin' Utes from day one, defense and rebounding. The Runnin' Utes held the Trojans to just 12 points in the first half, the lowest scoring total in the first period in the Larry Krystkowiak coaching tenure. For the game, USC shot just 26.5 percent (13-of-49) from the field, 8.3 percent (that's right, just over eight percent) from the three-point line (1-of-12).

The Utes out-rebounded the smaller Trojans 39-26, beating USC on the offensive glass 11-7. Utah's size underneath clearly gave the hometown team trouble. Each of the Utes' starters registered at least four rebounds, while USC's starters managed just 12 total. Reserve forward Kyle Kuzma used his 6-9 body to pull down six rebounds to help the Utes on the glass.

In the second half, Trojans head coach Andy Enfield replaced his entire starting lineup with reserves, and the second unit played hard, going on a 13-1 run on the strength of a full-court press. The USC pressure defense seemed to bother Utah, resulting in turnovers and a nearly seven-minute scoring drought from the field. During the stretch, the Utes managed just three points on free throws from Poeltl and reserve shooting guard Kenneth Ogbe.

USC was led by reserve forward Malik Martin with 11 points (4-of-6 shooting, 1-of-3 from beyond the arc). Starting guard Katin Reinhardt dropped 35 on Colorado in their last game but managed just six against the Utes. Reinhardt, a 6-6 transfer from UNLV, shot 3-of-8 from the field against Utah, 0-4 from deep. (Against the Buffs, Reinhardt had 18 three-point attempts alone, hitting nine of them.)

The Utes struggled from distance Sunday, hitting just 20 percent of their attempts from behind the three-point line (4-of-20). Starting guard Brandon Taylor went 1-for-4 from deep, stepping into one in the second half and finishing with nine points, four rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Running mate Delon Wright went 0-of-2 from downtown, but finished with 11 points, five rebounds, one assist, three steals, and one blocked shot.

However, in an unusual twist, Utah was hitting their free throws. The Utes shot a torrid 86.7 percent from the charity stripe (13-of-15), and even Poeltl, who has struggled mightily this season from the line, hit 2-of-2. USC held a +4 attempts advantage from the free throw line, but the Los Angeles team shot just 63.2 percent (12-of-19).

Utah improves to 17-4 on the season, 7-2 in Pac-12 play, continuing to stay well above .500 in conference play for the first time since the Utes joined the conference. The Runnin' Utes are now just three games shy of that magical 20-win mark for the second time in Krystkowiak's tenure. Coach K has now raised his Utah record to 59-59 after starting his tenure with a 6-25 season.

Utah stays on the road for their next game, traveling to Boulder, Colo. on Feb. 7 for their return trip against the Colorado Buffaloes (11-10, 4-5). The Utes are 4-4 away from Salt Lake City, 2-2 in conference play, having split both the Arizona and Southern California trips. The following week, Utah will host Stanford, currently in third place in the conference, and Cal in the teams' only meeting this season.