Just days removed from a home sweep by the Oregon schools, the Runnin’ Utes hit the road against USC, securing a dominant 77-70 victory over the Trojans, who were previously undefeated at home in conference play. Now at 6-4, Utah finds themselves back in the rat race for a top four seed before the conference tournament next month. With a 5-5 UCLA team up next, the Utes are in prime position to firmly take control of their destiny, and if Thursday night’s win is any indication, this team is more than capable of clinching a top four seed.
Opening the game with a 7-0 run, Utah had firm control over the Trojans from the start, never giving up their early lead on their way to victory. Jace Johnson came up huge, scoring 13 points along with 13 rebounds to give junior center his second double double in a his last three games. Even more impressive, Both Gach, making his first start for the Utes in conference play led the way with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists while Sedrick Barefield and Donnie Tillman both hit double digits, scoring 13 and 12 points respectively.
On the downside, Utah once again shot themselves in the foot, committing 15 turnovers and allowing the Trojans to dig out of a 23 point deficit in the closing minutes. Once USC employed a full court press, the Runnin’ Utes went scoreless for nearly five minutes as the Trojans went on a 10 point run. A pair of Sedrick Barefield free throws finally turned things around for the Utes before Parker Van Dyke’s three pointer ended Utah’s field goal trough with 2:06 left on the clock.
The Utes were noticeably more aggressive Thursday night, holding USC under their season average of 77.6 Senior forward Bennie Boatwright was still impressive, scoring 17 points, on par with his season average, while junior guard Jonah Matthews continued his impressive scoring streak, putting up an additional 18 points after an amazing 20 point performance against Washington State last week. Outside of the duo of Boatwright and Matthews, the Trojans struggled to find the basket, with the bench combing for just 14 points, with the other starters coming together for a dismal 21 point combined performance. Jayce Johnson wreaked havoc underneath, frustrating the Trojans at the basket in the first half, aiding in Utah’s early domination.
Giving Gach the start on the road proved to be a smart move, as the freshman was the difference maker for the Utes offensively. After getting swept at home last week, it looked as
though Utah was out of the conversation for relevance in the PAC-12 tournament, but Larry Krystkowiak seemingly had an answer at every turn tonight to correct course and get his team back on track. With every run the Trojans made, the Utes were able to fight back and coast to victory. Krystkowiak’s game plan was as well executed as you could as for, all things considered.
Utah fans may need to accept the fact that this season’s team is going to be prone to turnovers and look forward to a more cohesive team next season. With a talented but sometimes clunky young core of talent at the helm, there are bound to be some bumps along the way, but this team has been nothing short of resilient in the face of adversity and Thursday nights performance was no exception.