This week highlights Pac-12 basketball at its finest as the Utah Utes host two nationally ranked teams from southern California to the Huntsman Center. First off in the home stance, the 25th ranked USC Trojans. After a completely disastrous start the Utes put found chemistry offensively and ran the Trojans off the court for a 86-64 victory to move to 12-4 (3-1) on the season. UteZone breaks down the key moments that led to a Ute victory.
Failure to Start
Utah has shown a tendency to struggle to begin games and find themselves with an early deficit, but nothing has compared to what they endured Thursday night. The Trojans started the game in rhythm, attacking the ball and finding open spots on the floor, they made four of their first shot attempts and appeared to have no resistance at executing their game plan. Meanwhile Utah was unable to finish a single possession offensively. After Kyle Kuzma and Lorenzo Bonam started the game by missing two layups at the rim, it was obvious things were not going to go Utah’s way. Utah began the game with seven straight empty possession. Three missed layups, 0-5 shooting and two turnovers all contributed the Utah falling down to USC 10-0 in the first four and a half minutes of play.
Kuzma Breathes Life into the Utes
Lorenzo Bonam finally disturbed the bottom of the net at the 15:25 mark. Once Utah realized there wasn’t a curse placed not their hoop, Kuzma rallied the Utes on an 11-0 run. First Kuzma grabbed an offensive board off a Bonam missed three pointer and laid the ball in at the rim. Next, he found his favorite spot on the floor, the top of the key, and held his follow through hand in the sky as his three point attempt when through the net. Finally he posted on the right block, with his back to the basket and hooked the ball over his left shoulder to give the Utes their first lead of the game at 11-10. Then Utah was able to calm its nerves and reset the game, going toe to toe with the Trojans.
Win the Rebounds Battle, Win the Game
After the first five minutes, Utah played a very solid first half. The Utes shot 64% from the field, including 5-8 from the three, and took advantage of their opportunities by scoring 10 points off the six Trojan turnovers. Despite the slow start, Utah was able to take a 44-31 lead into halftime. However, the thing that kept USC treading above water was Utah’s inability to keep the Trojans off the offensive glass. The Trojans out-rebounded Utah 19-15 in the first half, but what was most damaging were the 10 offensive rebounds. Those 10 extra opportunities provided 10 extra points for USC in the first half.
Much of those results came from the Trojan backcourt crashing hard from the perimeter and snagging the long rebounds. If Utah were to hold on to the lead they would need to get more physical and out-hustle the Trojans to the rebounds. The coaching staff hammered this point home in the locker room and Utah came out with a different mentality in the second half. Utah would win the rebounding battle 22-15 in the second half, limiting the Trojans to only four offensive rebounds and four second chance points.
Despite the improved play by the Utes, they couldn’t shake the Trojans. Utah was unable to stop USC’s dribble penetration and the Trojans were able to keep the Utah lead within striking distance, around ten points. Just as Utah appeared to be flatlining again, Devon Daniels lifted the spirits with reviving three point shot after Utah became frustrated after the refs took away a continuation play from Kuzma. After a horrendous 19% three point shooting over the first 12 games of the season, Daniels has shot 5-6 over the last two games, making five consecutive attempts. A few moments later, Sedrick Barefield capped an 11-0 Utah lead with his own corner three pointer that gave the Utes a 66-45 lead with 10:22 remaining. With the Huntsman Center rocking, the Utes would not relinquish their lead.
After a missed Elijah Stewart layup, Daniels fought for a one handed rebound in the lane then quickly turned the ball up court. Daniels executed the perfect first pass of a fast break by getting the ball to Barefield in the middle of the court ahead of the Trojan defenders. Barefield took a dribble to the center of the court, forcing the defense to react to him as a penetrator, then he lobbed the ball to Bonam who elevated from the right block and slammed home a perfect fast break alley-oop. With a 78-55 lead and 5:38 left in the game, Utah had already defeated the Trojans.
Utah will now host the #4 UCLA Bruins, after dismantling the Buffaloes, the Bruins come to Salt Lake with 17-1 record, their only loss being a last second defeat at the hands of the Oregon Ducks. The game will tip this Saturday at 4:00 PM MT and will be aired on the Pac-12 Network.