The Pac-12 season is winding down, and with four games left to play Utah is right in the mix, one game back of the Pac-12’s hottest team Arizona. The only other team in front of Utah in the standings is Oregon at a half game, but the Ducks are slumping at the wrong time, losers of two straight. Nipping at Utah’s heels, is their opponent on Sunday afternoon, USC. The Trojans along with Cal are a half game back of the Utes. This sets up a very important Sunday showdown between the Utes and the Trojans in regards to the Pac-12 race.
USC is coming off a 79-72 win against Colorado after dropping a pair in Arizona the week before. Joe Lunardi currently has the Trojans projected as a no. 7 seed in the tournament, meanwhile Utah is a no. 6 seed in his latest projections. The two teams are neck and neck coming down the final stretch of the season making Sunday’s contest a prime opportunity for both teams to create some separation in both the conference standings and tournament seeding.
Trojan head coach Andy Enfield gained fame with Florida Gulf Coast and "Dunk City" back in 2013. In his first two seasons in L.A. Enfield struggled to recapture the success he experienced during Florida Gulf Coast’s magical Cinderella run through the 2013 tournament. This year however things have finally turned a corner. Enfield now has player’s he recruited himself and a few years of installing his system in place. The result has been a remarkable turnaround and a team contending for a Pac-12 title.
The Trojans are a very balanced team with six players averaging double scoring figures, but none averaging over 13.2 points per game. The team is young, with none of the six being seniors. One of the player’s Enfield was able to get after coming to USC was point guard Jordan McLaughlin. The sophomore was the headliner of his first recruiting class and showed Enfield’s clout in the recruiting game, beating out UCLA for the local product. McLaughlin struggled with injuries his freshman season, but has emerged as a leader this season, averaging 13.2 points per game and 5 assists per game.
Junior guard Julian Jacobs stepped up became a leader for the Trojans last year on the offensive end and has continued his development this season. Jacobs is averaging 12.4 points per game and 5.6 assists per game. Together he and McLaughlin form very good backcourt combination for the Trojans. The Trojans are good shooter from the outside too. McLaughlin shoots 42.5% from the three point line, while sophomore guard Elijah Stewart shoots a t 42.3% clip from downtown.
In the post 6-11 junior forward Nikola Jovanovic and 6-10 freshman Bennie Boatwright provide length. Both are decent scorers 12.5 and 11.8 points per game respectively. Utah should have an advantage in the frontcourt in this game however. Against Colorado on Wednesday, the Trojans had to overcome a 15 point deficit to keep their undefeated record at home intact. A big issue for USC was rebounding, as Colorado out rebounded the Trojans 23-11 in the first half, despite Colorado big man Josh Scott not starting with a sore ankle. Utah’s inside out approach on offense should take advantage of the Trojans weakness and inexperience in the frontcourt.
Stopping McLaughlin in the backcourt will be key in this matchup as well. USC plays uptempo and the offense runs through McLaughlin. It was McLaughlin who was the catalyst for the Trojans comeback against Colorado and USC will be looking to remain undefeated at home on Sunday. On the flipside Utah will be looking for their first sweep of the LA schools in LA. It should be great one between two top half Pac-12 teams on Sunday.
You can catch the game on 4pm MT on Pac-12 Networks.