Our mojo's a little damaged right now and could come up with all kinds of excuses. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
LOS ANGELES — Utah came up empty in its road trip to UCLA and USC. L.A. proved to be Lost Angeles for the Utes, who dropped an 84-67 decision to the Trojans in the Galen Center.
The loss followed an 83-64 setback to the Bruins Thursday at Pauley Pavilion.
“It wasn’t a good trip for us, didn’t play well,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who was especially displeased with the second shots the Utes gave up early against USC.
Krystkowiak called it “a second-shot disaster.” Far too many 3-point shots also proved troublesome. The Trojans ended up connecting on a season-high 14 from long range.
“Our mojo’s a little damaged right now and could come up with all kinds of excuses,” he said. “We’re looking for some guys that are ready to battle. I liked the way we finished the game, had some guys that were competing. It didn’t look real sexy but that will take you a long way if we bring that kind of effort.”
The Utes (10-7, 2-4) are in a tailspin with four consecutive losses. They return to the Huntsman Center this week to face Washington on Thursday and Washington State on Sunday.
“We’ve got to get back and get a few things tweaked in our practices and hopefully come out against the Washington schools and get a little better taste in our mouth,” Krystkowiak said.
Things started off well for Utah on Sunday. Donnie Tillman, who has played in just one game since Dec. 9 because of a foot injury, started and made a 3-pointer for the first score of the contest. Exactly one minute later, Tyler Rawson hit another three as the Utes jumped out to a 6-0 advantage.
That’s when the descent began. Utah’s lead quickly evaporated. USC nailed three long shots in a 10-0 run to pull ahead for good. The outburst was part of a 32-5 spurt that put the game well out of reach with 9:20 to go in the first half. A 3-pointer by Jonah Mathews capped the overpowering stretch that featured 8-of-12 shooting by the Trojans from beyond the arc. The Utes, meanwhile, went more than six minutes without a field goal at one point and trailed 32-11 after the shot by Mathews.
The situation grew worse before the half was complete. USC extended its lead to 26 with 1:25 remaining and held a 46-22 edge at the break. Utah shot just 32 percent from the field (8 of 25) over the first 20 minutes. The Utes turned the ball over 11 times, surrendered nine 3-pointers and were out-rebounded 19-15.
USC took its biggest lead of the game — at 64-36 — with 11:59 remaining. Utah wound up outscoring the Trojans 31-20 after that to close it out. The Utes were led by Justin Bibbins, who finished with a team-high 19 points after a scoreless first half. Jayce Johnson wound up with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Mathews topped the Trojans (13-6, 4-2) with 17 points. Jordan McLaughlin added 14. Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu contributed 13 and 11, respectively.
“That was a good win against a good Utah team,” said USC coach Andy Enfield. “To force turnovers and get 84 points is a good thing.”
For the Utes, though, it’s back to the drawing board. They haven’t won a game since sweeping the Oregon schools in late December to open Pac-12 play.
“We’re going to figure it out and get this thing rolling again,” Bibbins said.
Johnson attributes the ongoing skid to defense and noted that it's something the team has really got to focus on moving forward.
The offense, he explained, will come.
Despite being two games under .500 in conference, Johnson is confident Utah will climb out of the hole.
“I believe so. I believe in my team. I believe in my coaches,” Johnson said. “For sure, we can salvage (the season).”