SALT LAKE CITY — Apparently, something had to give.
After opening Pac-12 play with hard-fought losses to Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA — by a combined margin of just eight points — the Utah Utes were at a crossroads of sorts Saturday against USC. The Trojans, who had lost 14 straight games away from home, appeared to be just what the Utes needed to get over the hump.
The script, however, didn’t go according to Utah's plan — far from it, as a matter of fact.
USC handed Utah its most lopsided loss of the season with a 76-59 victory in the Huntsman Center. The Trojans shot 50 percent from the field and outrebounded the Utes 39-30.
“I thought we got manhandled for the most part. It was a real physical style of game. They played really strong man-to-man defense and took us out of a lot of stuff that we wanted to try to accomplish,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “The aggressor won. They did a nice job coming in and they were greased up to get a road win.”
Whether it was the Utes' physical stature or style of play, Krystkowiak acknowledged that things just didn't bode well.
USC coach Kevin O’Neill, obviously, saw things differently.
“It is a big win. It’s part of the process of getting better,” he said. “Every team is good in this league. Every stop is a hard stop and we are glad that we got the win. Now we need to go and build on that.”
The Trojans certainly had the hammer and nails out against the Utes. They took the lead for good midway through the first half and constructed a 32-23 advantage by the break.
Things grew even worse for Utah (8-8, 0-4) in the second half. USC (7-10, 2-2) extended its lead to 19 at one point. The Trojans shot 60.9 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes. The Utes, meanwhile, struggled to just 37.5 percent accuracy for the game. They also missed 8 of 21 shots from the foul line.
“They came out and played a lot harder than us. We didn’t respond. We usually do,” said Utah guard Jarred DuBois, who led all scorers with 18 points, “We have to stop coming out and waiting. I feel like we keep taking the first punch and then we try to react. We’ve got to be the aggressor and come out and just play flat-out harder — play with more heart, more intensity and want to win a little more.”
The Utes are now mired in a four-game skid. They visit Washington State on Wednesday and Washington on Saturday.
“Hopefully this is rock bottom for us and this is as low as we get for the season,” DuBois said before discussing the road ahead. “It shows who you really are how you respond to it. I hope and I think that we will.”
Utah didn’t have many answers against USC. The Utes held their last lead at 15-13 and didn’t show a lot of spark thereafter.
“They were hitting shots and I think it took the wind out of our sails,” said Utah center Jason Washburn. “... When our defense started sputtering on us I think it really takes a toll on us mentally and we can’t let that happen. We’ve got to find a way to generate our own energy on both ends of the floor and always keep the game the way we need it to go.”
All five of USC’s starters scored in double figures as the Trojans dictated the tempo. Krystkowiak noted that Utah’s inability to finish possessions was a big factor in the game. The Utes did some things well, like turning the ball over only six times.
In the end, though, it didn’t really matter as Utah’s overall performance was rather dismal in comparison to Thursday’s 57-53 loss to UCLA.
The Utes, however, aren’t using any sort of letdown as an excuse.
“I don’t think any previous situation should affect the now. We always talk about you can’t live in the past and you can’t worry about what might happen in the future,” DuBois said. “We have to come out and live in the moment and play in that moment, the 40 minutes that you have to play that night, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Krystkowiak is also focused on the present. He made it clear that he's not looking back at anything.
“I’m tired of talking about what we did. It was disappointing that we lost the game. We didn’t play well,” Krystkowiak said. "But we’re not going to have the barometer be about what took place the first three games. That’s all talk and our guys know that talk is cheap. It doesn’t do any good.”
EXTRA STUFF: Attendance was 11,027. ... USC’s Dewayne Dedmon finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots. ... J.T. Terrell led the Trojans with 14 points. ... Utah’s Aaron Dotson did not dress because of a sore knee. ... Washburn’s three-game streak of double-doubles was snapped. He wound up with 13 points and four rebounds. ... Jordan Loveridge had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Utes.
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