Sports / U of U / 
Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak talks with his team during a game against UVU at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Utah shoots 28% from the field as Utes falls 64-46 to USC

By Josh Furlong, KSL.com | Updated - Jan. 2, 2021 at 4:47 p.m. | Posted - Jan. 2, 2021 at 4:11 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah had only 6 points in the opening eight minutes of play on the road and looked every bit outmatched by the more physical and aggressive USC team that built up a 16-point lead.

The game simply looked out of reach.

Utah then forced eight of USC first-half 10 turnovers over a seven-minute period and took advantage with aggressive play from the bench and a 13-0 differential on fast-break points to eventually claim a 1-point lead with just over three minutes to play in the half. But Utah couldn't get a basket to drop in the final 3:16 of the half and USC reeled off a quick 6-0 run in less than a minute to take a 32-28 lead at the break.

That trend continued for Utah in the second half as the Utes went on a six-minute field goal-scoring drought and several other small scoring droughts, which ultimately led to the team's demise in a 64-46 loss to the Trojans. Utah (4-3, 1-2) only managed 18 points to USC's 32 in the second half as the team missed several close baskets around the rim and were forced to put up poor shots.

Utah extends its road losing streak now to 13 straight games, which includes Utah's winless year in conference play last season.

"You know when you get them, you've got to make them — certainly more of them — but we missed two layups, and in a one-possession game that those make a difference," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said about his team's inability to get easy shots to fall in the second half.

Utah cut USC's lead to 2 points two minutes into the second half, but then USC's defense, which is ranked No. 5 in the country in 2-point field goal defense according to KenPom, clamped down and limited Utah's attempts at the rim. But even when Utah found open looks, the shots couldn't find the bottom of the net and the rout was on.

"Our offense is putting too much pressure on our defense with teams of this caliber," Krystkowiak said. He added that he was impressed with the team's defensive performance for much of the game.

He pointed to limiting the Mobley brothers — Evan Mobley leads the team with 16.7 points per game — to only 5 points combined as reasons to be happy with at least one side of the team's effort Saturday.

"I've been really pleased with our defense," he said. "If you look at the Mobley brothers, with the exception of the dunk at the end, they would have had 3 points between them, so our guys are buying into some things defensively and in our offenses behind our defense right now. So that's going to be a challenge for us, and I look forward to jumping into it this week.

"This is the first couple of games we've played in a long time," he added. "If there's one thing that's going to be a little bit out of sync that I'm willing to tolerate, it's going to be some offense. I'm ultra proud of the way our guys came in and guarded and controlled that element, and I told them they're not going to hear much from me if we play with that kind of energy and activity. And the offense will take care of itself, but we've got to make some strides."

USC (6-2, 1-1), who shot 49% from the field in the game, was led in scoring by Tahj Eaddy's 18 points that included a 3-pointer late in the game to push USC's lead back up to double figures. Drew Peterson added 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Isaiah White added 12 points before fouling out of the game.

Utah found success early in the post with Mikael Jantunen who scored a team-high 8 points in the opening half. Utah outscored the Trojans 22-16 in the paint at the end of the first half, which was a drastic change to the onset of the game where USC dominated down low and outscored Utah 8-2 to begin the game.

But Utah failed to have a player score in double figures until 2:59 left in the game as the team finished shooting a meager 28% from the field. Freshman Ian Martinez, who provided the Utes with an early jump start finished with a team-high 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field in 18 minutes of play.

"We're on the right path. We were getting a good look, we just missed them," sophomore Rylan Jones said. "We've got to find our rhythm on offense and get in the groove and see a couple go in, and I think that'll kick us off with a win."

Utah begins a four-game home stretch Wednesday as the team welcomes Oregon State to the Huntsman Center. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks at 9 p.m. MST.

Josh Furlong

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