SALT LAKE CITY — Utah got back in the winner’s circle Thursday night. The Utes ended a two-game skid with an 84-66 victory over USC before a crowd of 9,231 in the Huntsman Center.
Delon Wright scored 22 points, Dakarai Tucker added 18, and Jordan Loveridge chipped in 16 as Utah improved to 13-4 overall and 2-3 in Pac-12 play.
“It’s been a struggle for us. It’s not the way you script it — the number of close games that we’ve had,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who noted that both the Utes and Trojans (9-8, 0-4) were hungry for a victory. “So it’s one of those moments of truth, I think, in a season.
“I felt really good about it. I’ve been a wreck this week,” he added. “I want to get a win and validate the stuff we’re doing and get some of this taste out of our mouth.”
Utah led 39-36 at halftime despite having centers Jeremy Olsen, Marko Kovacevic and Dallin Bachynski in foul trouble. Olsen had three fouls at the break, while Kovacevic and Bachynski each had two.
The Utes, however, did manage to shoot better than they did last week in losses at Washington and Washington State — making 15-of-32 shots (46.9 percent) from the field in the first half.
Although Utah’s accuracy from 3-point range was a subpar 3-of-11 over the first 20 minutes, back-to-back treys by Tucker allowed the Utes to erase a 25-24 deficit and pull ahead for good.
“It was on my mind the whole time to shoot with confidence,” Tucker said.
Leading 30-25, the Utes managed to hold off the Trojans for the final 4:17 of the half, maintaining a lead of at least two points the rest of the way.
Tucker topped Utah with 10 points. Olsen added eight with Loveridge and Wright contributing seven apiece during the first 20 minutes of play.
USC, meanwhile, was led by Pe’Shon Howard’s game-high 12 points in the first half. Byron Wesley, who entered the game averaging a team-best 17.5 points for the Trojans, was kept in check. He didn’t score until making a layup with 16 seconds remaining in the half.
“It was a focus,” Krystkowiak said after the Utes held him to eight points. “That was a guy that we identified as being a no-touch guy.”
When play resumed, Utah opened with a 13-4 run to increase its lead to 54-42. Tucker and Wright teamed for 11 points in the second-half opening outburst. USC eventually pulled to within five, but the Utes responded with a 13-1 spurt to put the game well out of reach. They later increased their lead to 21 points with 4:03 left to play.
“We played fairly hard. We couldn’t finish. It seemed like we couldn’t finish in the lane in the second half. We had a couple crucial turnovers, missed some layups. Defensively, they did a great job driving the ball,” said USC coach Andy Enfield. “Delon Wright really put us in a bind. He drove the ball really well, got to foul line 11 times. I thought Utah played a good game.”
Utah shot 51.7 percent in the second half in pulling away. The Utes’ defense also proved pivotal. By game’s end, they forced 17 turnovers.
“We needed this one badly. We lost two in Washington. This was a perfect game for us to come back home and do what we did,” said Wright, who added that the Utes need to go into Saturday’s game against 25th-ranked UCLA with the same mentality and try to get the win."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company