Utah will see the Trojans of USC one more time this season. USC rode a hot night shooting the ball to steamroll their rival UCLA in Las Vegas. The Trojans showed why they are a dangerous team, hitting eleven three pointers as a team, in beating their rivals by 24 points on Wednesday night. The win marked the first time USC has beaten UCLA three times in one season since 1942.
6-10 freshman forward Bennie Boatwright led the way for the Trojans with his 19 point, 9 rebound effort. He had plenty of help as sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin had 18 points, Nikola Jovanovic had 16 and Julian Jacobs scored 11 points. Off the bench 6-11 forward Chimezie Metu had 10 points and junior guard Katin Reinhardt also added 10 to give the Trojans six players with double digit scoring.
The win may have taken some pressure off the Trojans heading into Thursday's game against Utah. After appearing to be a lock for the tournament, the Trojans dropped six of their last eight games, including an 80-69 loss against the Utes, to close the season. Wednesday night's win might be enough to get them in. If the Trojans are looking to further boost their tournament resume on Thursday, they are going to face a much tougher test.
One of the factors that led to the Trojans winning comfortably was their ability to shoot well. They hit on 47.8% of shots from the three point line on Wednesday night and 46.9% on field goals overall. The odds of them being able to continue that on Thursday are slim. Teams without Steph Curry usually can't keep that pace up from behind the arc for long.
USC was plenty sloppy throughout Wednesday's game with 17 turnovers. Fortunately for the Trojans, their hot shooting matched with UCLA's slow start meant the lead was never threatened. Utah is a better team than UCLA however and if USC plays as loose as they did against UCLA, The Utes will be able to take advantage of those turnovers to bury the Trojans.
The Trojans will also need to figure out a way to stop Jakob Poeltl. The Pac-12 Player of the Year torched the Trojans when the teams met a couple weeks ago, scoring 29 points on 11 of 13 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished 4 assists. Fellow All-Pac-12 players Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor also had good games last time out against USC. Against a young USC team, Utah has a distinct advantage in experience and will have the best player on the floor.
Could the Trojans come in on Thursday night and upset the Utes? Absolutely. It's officially March and anything can happen. USC is a good team and in many ways is probably the more talented team from a raw, athletic standpoint. Jordan McLaughlin and Bennie Boatwright combine for a dynamic inside out combination and players like Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic serve as perfect complimentary players.
If the Trojans remain hot like they were Wednesday against UCLA they have a very good chance to beat the Utes. The problem for the Trojans is consistency. They are a young team and commit too many turnovers. If they cleaned their game up a little, they could go far in the tournament.
Another factor for USC will becoming off a huge rivalry game in a tournament environment. It's hard to forsee the Trojans being able to come out with the same tenacity as they did against the Bruins. Utah's improving defense will force the Trojans into turnovers and the Utah is good enough to convert those turnovers into points. Utah's combination of experience and skill should be enough to hold off the Trojans and advance into the Pac-12 semi finals.