After the loss to UCLA on Thursday, players and coaches for Utah claimed they didn’t match the energy of the Bruins, heading into its game against USC on Sunday, the Utes made bringing the energy a top priority.
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“We knew we played a bad game at UCLA,” said freshman center Jakob Poeltl in a postgame show interview with ESPN700. “We wanted to come out with energy and focus and play good defense, get back to our roots.”
And that’s exactly what Poeltl and company did in the Utes’ 67-39 win Sunday afternoon over the Trojans, by forcing 15 turnovers and holding USC to just 26.5 percent shooting from the field.
“It was fantastic,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said of the game on the show. “…We recovered [from the UCLA loss] and found a way to win. It was disheartening against UCLA, but it made us a better team.”
Poeltl led the way for Utah with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and collected nine boards, including four offensive. Poeltl was helped by star guard Delon Wright, who finished with a stat line of 11 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Right from the tip, the Runnin’ Utes were looking to make up for their performance on Thursday night, with Poeltl getting two quick buckets and after a Jordan Loveridge three pointer made the score 9-2 under five minutes into the game it had all the makings of a blowout.
“I didn’t think they could guard us inside,” Krystkowiak said on the show of Poeltl. “Any great team is gonna’ have to start with an inside presence.”
The duo would continue their antics and add to the Utah run all the way to 17-5, capped by another Loveridge three-point make.
After Loveridge and Poeltl did most of the work for a good portion of the first frame, Wright needed to make his mark on this game, and with 3:51 remaining until halftime he did just that. Following a Poeltl layup, Wright anticipated a USC pass perfectly as he jumped the lane to gather the steal from the Trojan guard. After gaining full possession of the rock, Wright ran it the other way for an easy dunk, and a 27-9 Utah lead.
The Utes got back to their defensive ways in the first half after a brief mishap against UCLA on Thursday, as they held USC to just 12 first half points. Additionally, the Utah defense forced 10 turnovers, stealing the ball five times before heading into the locker rooms with a 32-12 lead.
In the second half, the Runnin’ Utes picked up where they left off by reeling off an 11-2 run to push the lead to 43-14 with 16:36 to go. During that run four different Utes scored, while USC’s Julian Jacobs was the only Trojan to make a bucket.
With the lead up to 29 points, Utah was well on its way to earning its seventh Pac-12 victory, but USC would not let it be that easy. After Chris Reyes missed the tail end of a pair of free throws, the Trojans went on an 11-0 run as the Utes went nearly six minutes without a bucket.
However, there would be no miraculous comeback in this one with Utah putting things together down the stretch. As it became more evident the Utes would return to Salt Lake City with another win, Krystkowiak emptied his bench, giving his more seldom-used players some time on the court.
The Runnin’ Utes return back to Salt Lake City for nearly a week before traveling to Boulder to take on Colorado on Saturday.