Runnin' Utes give up late lead and fall to USC

(Scott G Winterton, KSL, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah continues its winless streak on the road in Pac-12 Conference play after dropping a game at USC on Thursday.

Utah (12-8, 3-5) led by as many as 9 points midway through the second half before USC (17-4, 6-2) used a 12-0 run to take its first lead with 7:13 left in the game. The two programs changed leads for the remainder of the game, but Utah failed to hit free throws as the Trojans pulled away for a 56-52 win over the visiting Utes at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.

The Utes led by 2 with one minute left to play, but USC hit back-to-back buckets as Utah failed to hit shots. Timmy Allen attempted to tie the game with a drive to the basket with 15 seconds left, but USC’s Onyeka Okongwu stopped Allen in his tracks and then hit two free throws to give the Trojans the win.

Okongwu finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but it was his four blocks and defensive performance against Allen that helped the Trojans shut down the Utes. Allen was frustrated all night against Okongwu and could establish a consistent rhythm on offense. The sophomore finished with a team-high 13 points on 5-of-20 shooting from the field.

Trojans big Nick Rakocevic led his team with 16 points, 12 of which were scored in the first half, and 15 rebounds. Rakocevic was instrumental in keeping USC in the game in the first half on a frustrating shooting performance that was in the teens for much of the half.

Utah opened up the game shooting at a high clip to take a 10-point lead behind a pair of early 3-pointers midway through the first half as USC struggled and shot an early 13% from the field. But Rackocevic eventually got into a rhythm and cut into Utah’s lead.

The USC big got USC within 3 points before Utah’s Riley Battin and Jaxon Brenchley hit back-to-back 3-pointers to maintain a nice margin against a Trojans team that has won four of its last five games. Battin led Utah at the halftime break with 8 points, including two of the team’s five first-half 3-pointers. He finished with 10 points in the loss.

Utah carried a 6-point lead into the locker room as all five starters scored at least 4 points at the break — Brenchley replaced sophomore Both Gach in the lineup, who was held out due to injury.

The Utes struggled to maintain its early shooting success, though, and dropped to 33% from the field on the night, despite shooting 29% from the 3-point line.

Utah had four players in double figures in the loss, including 11 points from center Brandon Carlson, who went 1 of 4 from the free throw line down the stretch, and 10 points from freshman guard Rylan Jones.

The Utes entered the game hoping for their first road victory of conference play and an important win over a Quadrant 1 opponent. But Utah will have to wait a little longer in an effort to strengthen its resume, though the Utes' record makes it difficult to claim an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, though it could help an NIT bid.

Utah returns to action Sunday at 1 p.m. against UCLA in the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. The game will be broadcast on FS1.

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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