Utah advanced to 16-13 on the season after a dominating 74-83 win over the USC Trojans at home, aiding them in their quest for a first round bye in the upcoming PAC-12 tournament. We grade the night’s performance below.
The Runnin’ Utes were aggressive from the start, with Both Gach and Donnie Tillman making their way through the lane for monster dunks early on. In the end, only three of the eight players to hit the court finished under 10 points, with Parker Van Dyke leading all scorers with 20 points (including six for nine from three point range), followed by 19 from Timmy Allen and 17 from Sedrick Barefield.
Eight steals and three blocks aren’t stats that fans expect to see from this young Utah team, but senior Novak Topalovic was a defensive force against the Trojans, racking up one steal and two blocks of his own in the nights win along with a team-high seven rebounds. Topalovic made the most of his starting role filling in for the injured Jace Johnson, a good sign for the Utes as they prepare for the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Utah’s coaching staff ditched their usual casual polos in favor of suits, a clear message that they meant business coming in to their final home stint of the season. Keeping USC star Bennie Boatwright under 20 points was going to be critical for the Utes to secure the win, and the defensive plan to pressure the senior forward paid off in dividends, keeping him at 17 points and forcing the rest of the Trojan’s lineup to score instead. In doing so, junior Nick Rakocevic managed to find more open shorts, leading to an additional 17 points, higher than his 14.8 season average, and a drastic improvement upon his last two games, in which he scored 6 points a week ago against UCLA and just four in a contest against Oregon State.
Going into this game, Utah knew they controlled their own destiny in regards to securing a top four seed in the conference tournament, and they played with the necessary urgency to get the job done. They will finish the regular season with one final home game against UCLA this weekend, tipping off at 5:00 PM MT on March 9th. Television coverage will be made available through the PAC-12 Network.