USC (9-7) at Utah (12-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 16, 10 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Jon M.Huntsman Center (15,000) -- Salt Lake City, Utah. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: USC 7-2, Utah 12-1. Away Record: USC 1-3, Utah 0-3. Neutral Record: USC 1-2, Utah 0-0. Conference Record: USC 0-3, Utah 1-3. Series Record: USC leads, 17-15.
GAME NOTES: Two teams off to slow starts in conference play will square off at the Huntsman Center on Thursday evening, as the Utah Utes play host to the USC Trojans in a Pac-12 affair.
Andy Enfield's first season with the Trojans has been a mixed bag to this point. USC is sitting at two games over .500 overall at 9-7, but is still in search of its first league win of the year, with three straight losses to UCLA (107-73), Arizona State (79-60) and most recently, top-ranked Arizona (73-53).
Larry Krystkowiak's Utes are an impressive 12-4 on the year, but only one of those victories has come since conference play began. Utah's lone Pac-12 win came at home against Oregon State (80-69), but that was followed by a fruitless trip to the state of Washington, falling to both UW (59-57) and Washington State (49=46) in defensive battles. The good news for the Utes is that the Huntsman Center has been a safe haven, with all 12 wins coming on their home floor this year.
USC holds a narrow 17-15 series advantage, although the teams split a pair of meetings a year ago.
The Trojans have suffered three lopsided losses in conference play but that hasn't really told the entire story. USC pulled to within five points of Arizona with under 10 minutes to play, but the Wildcats closed out on a 21-8 run to blow the game open. The Trojans also shot themselves in the foot with a costly 18 turnovers. Byron Wesley led the way offensively with 18 points. J.T. Terrell joined- him in double figures with 10 points off the bench.
One look at the overall statistics and USC's problems jump off the page. The team is currently allowing more points (73.5 ppg) than it averages (72.6 ppg) and suffers from a -2.9 turnover margin. Wesley has been the only real reliable scoring threat game-in and game-out and ranks eighth in the conference at 17.5 ppg. No other player is currently in double figures, although Pe'Shon Howard (9.8 ppg), Terrell (9.5 ppg) and Nikola Jovanovic (9.3 ppg) do provide some scoring depth.
While USC has struggled offensively, Utah has thrived. The team ranks 24th nationally in scoring (81.2 ppg) and fourth in field-goal percentage (.513). In addition, the team plays a very disciplined style, having connected on almost as many free throws (268) as the opposition has attempted (286). A trio of starters lead the way, headlined by forward Jordan Loveridge. The 6-foot-6 sophomore leads the team in both scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (8.4 rpg). Guards Delon Wright (15.5 ppg) and Brandon Taylor (10.6 ppg) provide backcourt support.
It was a shortage of offense in the two losses in Washington last week, as the Utes followed up a .415 shooting clip against the Huskies with an even worse .295 effort against the Cougars. In the two losses combined, Utah was an atrocious 3-of-29 from behind the arc. Loveridge was just 3-of-11 from the floor against Washington State, but went 7-of-10 from the free-throw line to lead the team with 15 points. Wright added 14 points, but no other Ute finished with more than six points in the loss.
Like most teams, the Utes play a much better brand of basketball in their own building. Expect Utah to shake off a poor road trip with a solid win over a USC squad that will give its all.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah 75, USC 70
01/16 11:06:19 ET