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SALT LAKE CITY — The Runnin' Utes opened the Pac-12 season with three crushing defeats against three of the top teams in the conference record-wise, losing the three contests by a combined eight points.
A visit from last-place USC seemed like a welcome event.
The Trojans (7-10, 2-2) outplayed the Utes (8-8, 0-4) in virtually every facet of Saturday afternoon's match-up, however, cruising to a 76-59 victory at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
"I thought that we got man-handled for the most part," said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "They played really strong man-to-man defense. The aggressor won. They did a nice job coming in and they were greased up to get a road win."
"They came out and played a lot harder than us, and we didn’t respond like we usually do," said senior guard Jarred DuBois. "We have to stop coming out and waiting. I feel like we take the first punch and then we try to react. We have to be the aggressor and come out and play flat out harder.”
All five USC starters scored double figures, led by junior guard J.T. Terrell's 14. Junior forward Dewayne Dedmon, senior guard Jio Fontan, and sophomore guard Byron Wesley each added 13 points, with Dedmon grabbing 13 rebounds and Fontan dishing out six assists.
USC closed the first half on a 7-0 run, turning a close one into a 32-23 affair at the break.
After the Trojans compounded their lead to double digits in the second half, DuBois hit a 3-pointer to pull the Utes back within eight, 50-42, with 10:26 left to play.
But USC responded with a 7-0 run, regaining a double-digit lead that it would hold to the rest of the contest.
DuBois led the Utes with 18 points, while Washburn scored 13 points with four boards and three blocks. Freshman forward Jordan Loveridge chipped in with 12 points and seven rebounds in the Utes' largest margin of defeat of the season.
Utah shot just 37.5 percent from the field, including only 26.7 percent from beyond the arc. USC hit 50 percent of its shots — 61 percent in the second half — knocking down 46.7 percent from downtown.
"Part of our game plan to try to keep the ball out of the paint because they were really good off the bounce and on the glass," Krystkowiak said. "But it’s almost like we needed to approach this game like they were great shooters.”
"It seemed almost easy to them," Washburn said. "They were just in that kind of rhythm. I think it took a lot of wind out of our sails. We depend on our defense to boost our offense."
The Utes also lost the battle on the glass, yeilding a 39-30 advantage to the Trojans.
The blow-out loss comes as a considerable setback to a team that had appeared to have been trending upward, despite the 0-3 start to conference play.
"I’m tired of talking about what we did (in past games)," Krystkowiak said. "It was disappointing that we lost the game and didn’t play well. We’re not going to have the barometer be about what happened in the first three games. That’s all talk, and our guys know that talk is cheap. We just got whooped."
"Hopefully this is rock bottom for us," DuBois said. "Sometimes that is good for you to get to this moment. It really shows what you’re made of."
Matters don't get much easier for the Utes as they travel to the Pacific Northwest next week to face Washington State and Washington. The Huskies are winners of three straight and seven of their last eight.
The Utes will need a good showing on the Washington road trip to bounce back from a rough start and get the season back on track.
"(We need to) take a look in the mirror from top to bottom — from the coaches to our mangers," said DuBois. "Look in the mirror and figure out what it is that we did in the past to win, and what we’re not doing now. Hopefully, as individuals we can look at ourselves and that will bring the team together."
"Keep the faith," Krystkowiak said. "The sun keeps coming up."
Tyson Maddy has covered the University of Utah football and men's basketball teams as a contributing writer for KSL.com Sports since 2011. Follow his Utes coverage on twitter @Tyson_Maddy