If there's one team that has USC's number, it is conference stalwarts Arizona or UCLA. It isn't so much upstart Oregon under Dana Altman, but Utah and Larry Krystkowiak lick their lips every time they see the Trojans coming up on the schedule.
On Thursday, USC burst out of the gate with a 10-0 start while trying to end a seven-game losing streak to the Utes. But things quickly swung the other way. Utah scored nine straight to answer the Trojans' initial run.
Utah missed its first five shots of the game, but followed making 18 of 23 (78.2 percent) to finish the half. At one point, they made nine straight field goal attempts. A 10-point deficit soon had morphed into a 12-point halftime lead.
In the second half, the Runnin' Utes (12-4, 3-1) squashed the Trojans' will, earning yet another blowout win over the men from Troy. Utah pulled away for an 86-64 win at the Huntsman Center -- its third straight win at home over the Trojans (15-3, 2-3) by at least 22 points.
Devon Daniels led five Utes in double figures with 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting, including making all three of his three-pointers. David Collette and Lorenzo Bonam had 15 points while Kyle Kuzma had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Chimezie Metu was the only Trojan in double figures, scoring 17 points. Reserve forwards Nick Rakocevic and Charles Buggs combined for 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting. That was about it for the offense as USC's guards all struggled offensively. Combined, the Trojan guards shot 10 for 40 from the floor.
As a team, USC shot 36.7 percent while allowing Utah to shoot 55.2 percent.
Here's three takeaways from USC's 86-64 loss to the Utes Thursday night:
Energy? Effort? Performance?
Low. Lackadaisical. Lackluster.
In every loss there is something to complain about, but there was a lot to harp on Thursday night and it all started with the Trojans' effort. It wasn't there. After USC's initial burst, things turned quickly and the Trojans could never recover.
Even though their shots weren't falling in the first half and they fell behind by double digits just before halftime, the Trojans were still competing. The same can't be said in the second half. They went through the motions.
"I feel like they gave up a little bit in the second half," Utah forward Kyle Kuzma told The Salt Lake Tribune. "They stopped running. Our zone really flustered them and they weren't playing defense because their shots weren't falling."
Don't be surprised to see more teams go to zone extended half court defenses against the Trojans. Not only do they not look to punish teams for attempting to pressure them in the backcourt, but if they aren't able to knock down shots consistently, teams will give token pressure to slow the tempo and then pack it in.
But you don't get to let your shot-making ability determine your intensity level. Regardless of how shots are falling, you can always hustle and that was the most disturbing and disappointing part of USC's 22-point loss in Salt Lack City.
Cold Cold Stew
Utah must have Elijah Stewart's kryptonite because it continued a two-year run of being able to completely shut him down.
Stewart was held scoreless for the first time in nearly a year and the third time in five tries against the Utes. Utah has held the junior guard to just five total points in five games. Stewart went 0 for 6 to continue his struggles against Utah, pushing his numbers to an improbable 2 for 22 against the Utes.
Even more concerning is Stewart's shooting slump since Pac-12 play. After his 0-fer Thursday, he is shooting just 31.7 percent and averaging 6.8 points per game in conference play after he was shooting 43.5 percent and averaging 15.5 points outside of Pac-12 play.
It isn't like Stewart isn't getting looks. Like the rest of the Trojans, Stewart missed wide open looks against Utah. Instead of being able to shoot the Utes out of their zone, USC missed 10 of its 16 three-point attempts.
The Trojans need perimeter production outside of Jordan McLaughlin and aren't getting it with Stewart slumping and Bennie Boatwright injured. Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron hasn't filled the void as well as expected and freshman Jonah Mathews is playing with more confidence, but is shooting a low percentage. De'Anthony Melton has been the most consistent, but as the backup point guard he has to handle the ball and create for teammates rather than being able to post up in the corner to shoot.
Incomplete in the Middle
The one bright spot for USC was another seemingly solid stat line for Chimezie Metu. He finished with 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting. He added five rebounds and two blocks.
But look a little closer at the stat line. Metu also missed five of his 10 free throws, contributing to USC's 14 for 26 (53.8 percent) mark from the charity stripe. He also had three turnovers and now has multiple turnovers in eight of the last nine games.
Metu also had the team's worst +/- mark at -21, which means Utah outscored USC by 21 points during the 30 minutes when Metu was on the court. In comparison, Utah was only four points better than the Trojans during reserve forward Charles Buggs' 19 minutes.
USC's uber-talented sophomore forward has shown a vast array of offensive weapons, including a deadly midrange game along with an ability to drive, spin and dunk on anyone that tries to overplay his dribble. He has scored in double figures in 12 of the last 13 games, including seven games of 15+ points.
Metu has also shown lackluster defensive effort at times. He allowed too many easy looks to Utah's post players and starting forwards David Collette (15 points, 5 rebounds) and Kyle Kuzma (12 points, 11 rebounds) took advantage.
USC travels to Colorado on Sunday to try to salvage a road split. The Buffaloes (10-7, 0-4) are coming off a 15-point drubbing at the hands of UCLA on Thursday night.
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