Wrapping up its road trip in California at the Galen Center, the University of Utah men’s basketball team (10-7 overall, 2-4 Pac-12) was seeking a win against USC (13-6 overall, 4-2 Pac-12) after dropping three in a row. However, the Trojans caught fire early on their home court and added to the heat as Utah was stomped on, 84-67.
“Sometimes you get caught up in a bunch of things, but at the end of the day, you have to simplify and just play harder,” said assistant coach Andy Hill on ESPN700.
Justin Bibbins lead the way for Utah with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field as he was 5-of-8 from the 3-point line and he went 2-of-2 from the charity stripe. All of Bibbins’s points came in the second half. The Runnin’ Utes shot 46.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from deep, while USC shot 43.3 percent from the floor and 48.3 percent from downtown.
Less than two minutes into the game, two 3-pointers, one by Donnie Tillman and the other by Tyler Rawson, gave Utah its only lead of the night, 6-0. At the 16:50 mark, the Trojans took a 7-6 lead en route to a 10-0 run before Tillman dropped another one from deep to cut the deficit to one point for one minute, 10-9. A 14-0 Trojan run quickly left the Runnin’ Utes trailing by 15 points, 24-9, before a Jayce Johnson free throw put an end to it.
“I felt like we came out flat — we weren’t playing defense as well as we were told to,” Johnson said on ESPN700. “They were making 3-point shots everywhere on the court.”
In the final 6:44 of the first half, Rawson coughed up the ball and it lead to a string of Utah turnovers. The Runnin’ Utes turned the ball over seven more times before Johnson had a tip-in with one second left on the clock to close out the half, but Utah was trailing by 24 points, 46-22.
“When you turn the ball over in this league with as good of players as there is, it’s pretty much going to result in something bad on the other end, and that’s what’s happening,” Hill said on ESPN700.
A bucket by Johnson in the final five minutes of the game brought the Utes within 16 points, the closest they would come to catching USC in the second half. Utah tallied six more turnovers and it finished the night with 17 total turnovers, 10 more than the Trojans.
The Runnin’ Utes have now dropped consecutive games to then-ranked No. 14 Arizona, then-ranked No. 4 Arizona State, UCLA and USC on Sunday night. It has been a challenging stretch of play as Hill said the competition has gotten better and “life on the road in this league isn’t easy.”
“You can’t make excuses because nobody is going to feel sorry for you, so you got to get better and tougher and work harder and that’ll solve a lot of problems,” Hill said on ESPN700.
Johnson said Utah needs to focus on the defense and being aggressive and then the offensive game will come.
“We need to get back in the gym and start working on … getting at the ball,” Johnson said on ESPN700. “I feel like a lot of people were not as aggressive and not getting up on the ball when they’re shooting, getting hands up.”
The Runnin’ Utes will return home to face Washington and Washington State. Tipoff against the Huskies is on Thursday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m.