Runnin’ Utes Stay Connected, Grab Huge Win Over USC

U+of+U+freshman+guard%2C+Ian+Martinez+slams+home+the+ball+in+the+game+vs+the+USC+Trojans+on+Feb.+27th%2C+2021+at+the+Jon+M.+Huntsman+Center+on+campus.+%28Photo+by+Jack+Gambassi+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

U of U freshman guard, Ian Martinez slams home the ball in the game vs the USC Trojans on Feb. 27th, 2021 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on campus. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Assistant Sports Editor

 

The University of Utah men’s basketball team grabbed a quality win Saturday night over the No. 19 USC Trojans, bringing hope for the team’s future as the season’s end draws near.

First Half

Utah hung with USC for the first few minutes of the contest, but it was clear pretty quickly that the Trojans came to play. It was a sloppy first few minutes for both squads, but that eventually gave way for USC. What was once a 6-6 tie became an 18-8 lead for the Trojans. To make matters worse, Rylan Jones left with a shoulder injury, the same injury that had kept him out of multiple games just last week. 

But then, miraculously, Utah made a run. Ian Martinez made some nice hustle plays on the offensive boards and USC left Alfonso Plummer wide open for a pair of threes. Normally, Utah would have rolled over after going down early as they did here. But against USC, they battled back only to trail by two going into a timeout. Halftime came with the Trojans holding a slim lead, 29-27. 

Second Half

Utah came out with some clear focus and intensity in the second half. An 8-0 run gave them the lead, causing USC to take a quick timeout just two minutes in. The Utes were much more connected in the second half, communicating and cheering for each other from the bench. As the night went along, it became more clear that Utah was capable of winning the game. They went up by 10 after a few more minutes of play, and momentum was on their side. USC punched back, but some well-timed three-pointers down the stretch from the Utes kept them at arm’s length. Every time the Trojans looked like they were about to make a run, Plummer nailed another three-pointer. That 10-point lead held strong, and miraculously, Utah grabbed the victory over the No. 19 team in the nation, 71-61. 

Keys to the Victory

USC’s Evan Mobley, a potential top-5 NBA Draft prospect, was held to just 11 points on 2-7 shooting. Plummer went 5-7 on threes for 19 points and Timmy Allen had 15 on 6-12 from the floor. Returning from a short stint with the Finnish national team, Mikael Jantunen came up big with four offensive rebounds, key for a team that has been killed on the glass for most of the season. 

“I thought our defense was really good… our guys really took to heart the last couple of days. We’ve been talking and focusing on moving the basketball” said head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It doesn’t matter whether you win, lose or draw, if you really come out with a competitive mindset and a collected mindset, I think our team can be pretty good.”

Additionally, Utah went 9-15 from beyond the arc against the Trojans. A lot of those were open shots, which was a critical key to victory.

“There’s a lot of guys with ammo left in their holster. We haven’t fired all the shots we need to fire… I think a lot of the reason we make open shots is our willingness to share… We’ve got some shooters on the team… this is something that can be contagious, and it needs to be stressed,” Krystkowiak said. 

Takeaways

Utah played with intensity, effort and focus against USC. They had a clear game plan, which they executed effectively. They had contributions across the board from everyone on the court, on both ends of the floor. They looked like a team that knew what they were doing, with smart and talented players. This is the actualized version of this team, which has been disappointing more often than not this season. This was a game that gives hope for what the future can look like in Salt Lake City. This is what Utah could be, and honestly, it’s probably what they should be on most nights. That hasn’t been the reality this year. Still, it’s a nice glimpse into what this team can achieve, and with all of the key players able to run this back next season, there may be a chance of sustaining this level of play.

“As I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, we can beat anybody,” Allen said. “We’re happy with the win,”

Up Next

Utah moves to 10-11 overall and 7-10 in the Pac-12. They enter the last week of the season hoping to keep this momentum going against Oregon State and Arizona State before the Pac-12 Tournament begins in Las Vegas. They’ll see the Beavers on Wednesday and the Sun Devils on Saturday for the final home games of the season.

 

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