They just couldn’t get over the hump, but they battled USC possession by possession on Thursday night in Vegas, as the Utes fell to the Trojans Utah Utes 91-85. It was a game that was single digits almost the entire way, outside of when the Trojans went up by 10 for just a few minutes halfway through the second half.
Opening the game, the Utes looked to repeat the performance they had in SLC just a couple of weeks ago when they knock off USC, and that’s what it looked like they were going to be able to do. It was largely a stalemate in that opening half, but things did get a bit shaky for about a five minute stretch there, when the Utes went cold, and USC went on a run, and it looked like they may pull away. To the Utes credit, they were able to keep USC within striking distance.
Things really got interesting late in the second half, as foul trouble really started to mount for the Utes. Utah ended up with four guys fouling out, Timmy Allen, Ian Martinez, Mikael Jantunen and Riley Battin, while Branden Carlson had four. The size of USC really bothered Utah in the paint, and it really made the rotations for Coach K challenging.
It looked like Utah was about to run out of gas and time when they were down by four with 26 seconds left. Timmy Allen followed his own shot and put it back in with 16 seconds left. USC then went onto miss two free throws, opening the door for the Utes to potentially win the game with a three. Instead of the win, Martinez penetrated and got bumped and fouled with just a couple of seconds remaining, and the freshman calmly forced overtime.
Overtime was a strange one, as USC didn’t hit a field goal in the first overtime. It kind of felt like Utah may steal this one in this frame, but they couldn’t get over the top to ever take the lead after multiple chances. Utah found themselves down three with about 30 seconds remaining, and Coach K drew up a great out of bounds play that lobbed the ball to Allen on the far side fo the court, over the defenses head, allowing Plummer to circle around and shake free for a huge three to tie the game. USC essentially dribbled the clock out on the other end.
Going into the next overtime, the Utes were missing bodies due to fouls, and finally the gas did run out. Utah had chances to even up the game multiple times in that second OT, but either Evan Mobley would swat the ball out, like on a crucial put back attempt by Carlson, or he’d go down and make a shot to put USC up two possessions.
The Utes battled, man, and they battled all game long. They were without Rylan Jones again, who is yet to play in the conference tournament, but they got some great run out of Martinez, who had 18 points, and was the monster for the Utes most the game, as his athleticism matched up against the Trojans. Allen had 20 and 13 rebounds, while Plummer had 16, and was diverse in his scoring. Jantunen was strong with his 10 points, and made Mobley really earn it at the other end, while being undersized. At the end of the day, it was the foul trouble that did the Utes in, as they were just out of bullets at the end.
Now it will be interesting to see what happens going into the off season, after a challenging season. Who will be back? We’ll see.