USC pulls away late to snap Utes’ winning streak

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Tyler Rawson (21) shoots, with USC Trojans forward Chimezie Metu (4) defending as the University of Utah hosts USC, NCAA basketball at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Saturday Feb. 24, 2018.

Even with their last three games at home, the chances of the Utes continuing their recent run through the regular season and into the conference tournament weren’t stellar. Up until Saturday afternoon, their win streak had withstood road games, injuries and outstanding individual efforts by opponents.

Then an athletic and talented USC team, which is thoroughly surrounded by the cloud of suspicion that has engulfed much of the college basketball world this past two days in the wake of an FBI investigation and reports of potential NCAA violations, came to Salt Lake City and snapped the Utah’s five-game win streak.

The Utes, who’d won eight of 10 games coming into the day, fell behind by 17 points in the first half but they rallied within six points in the second. However, they never got over the hump and faded late in a 74-58 loss in the Huntsman Center.

Senior forward David Collette scored a team-high 14 points and was the only Ute with double-digit points. Point guard Justin Bibbins (eight points, four assists) sat with foul trouble for almost the final 10 minutes. Senior forward Tyler Rawson scored nine points and tied Collette with a team-high seven rebounds.

“We didn’t bring it today,” Rawson said. “We didn’t play our best, and a lot of it was self-inflicted wounds today. We had a lot of turnovers that were careless and defensive assignments that we blew, personnel and guarding tendencies that we didn’t do a good job with today.”

Trojans 6-foot-11 forward Chimezie Metu, who the school announced in the morning would play despite allegations he or his family had received money from a sports agent, scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots. Jordan Usher, a versatile 6-foot-7 wing, also added 14 points off the bench.

The Utes (18-10, 10-7) came into the day tied with UCLA for third place in the Pac-12 and one game behind the second-place Trojans (21-9, 12-5) with all three teams fighting to solidify their footing for potential NCAA Tournament berths.

The Utes, who played without injured guard Sedrick Barefield and with sophomore Jayce Johnson limited by a foot injury, shot 35 percent in the first half and seemingly couldn’t get even wide-open perimeter shots to fall.

“It was a little bit of a perfect storm,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We missed five layups in the first half, can’t miss layups – not at this level of big boy basketball. At the end of the day, when you get a layup against a defensive team that’s as good as they – they lead the league in forced turnovers – you’ve got to make it.”

The Trojans shot 52 percent in the first half, and they scored 12 points off of Utes turnovers as well as 12 second-chance points in the half. They led 36-19 with 3:20 left before halftime, but the Utes finished the half on a 9-2 run to pull within 10 points, 38-28. The Utes cut the deficit to six points, 55-49, on a Collette layup with 8:52 remaining in the game, but the Trojans responded with 16 straight points to break the game open.

During the Trojans’ run, Krystkowiak got a technical foul after arguing with officials following back-to-back blocked shots on Collette attempts in the paint which incensed both Collette and Krystkowiak because no fouls were called.

The technical came after Krystkowiak had gone to his team’s huddle from the official to the other side of the floor, but Krystkowiak smacked a clipboard that slid across the court, which prompted the call, and Krystkowiak had to be held back after the technical foul was called.

“I’m not going to discredit their effort coming into our building,” Krystkowiak said. “I do know that when we’ve got two of our key contributors not playing and we played about 38 hours ago and you try to tip off at 12:30 for some reason, I don’t know that we had a lot of gas in our tank. I’m not going to be the guy that blew a gasket out on the court for some stuff and be a crybaby, but it didn’t fit our timing very well with playing a couple of elite teams back-to-back.”

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