The lengthy review that overturned a shot-clock violation and awarded Utah’s Andrea Torres a game-tying 3-pointer Friday night seemed like a sign that the Utes finally would overtake USC.
That never happened.
The Trojans scored the next six points and held on for an 84-80 victory at the Huntsman Center, handing the No. 17 Utes their first inexcusable loss of the season.
Utah’s recent losses at highly ranked Oregon and Oregon State were much easier to explain than a third straight defeat that stemmed mainly from USC’s 50-point first half — against a Ute defense that had allowed more than 74 points in a game only once.
Even so, the Utes (18-4, 7-4 Pac-12) had their chances. Having trailed by 14 points midway through the third quarter, Utah rallied and tied the game twice. Yet for the first time all season, the Utes never led in the final period.
Thanks to Erika Bean’s steal, the Utes had possession after a timeout with 13.8 seconds remaining, down by two points. They succeeded in getting the ball to senior forward Megan Huff, the team’s best player, with instructions for Huff to “attack and try to get contact,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said.
Instead, Huff turned in the lane and passed to freshman Niyah Becker, whose 3-point attempt was blocked. USC’s Ja’Tavia Tapley made two free throws for the final margin.
The last play was disappointing to Roberts, but the first half bothered her even more. USC (14-8, 4-7) shot 54.1 percent. Even worse for Utah, the Trojans turned eight offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points in building a 50-42 lead.
Utah’s 42 points “should be good enough,” Roberts said. “Our issue wasn’t our offense. It was defensively. We couldn’t get stops.”
A zone defense slowed the Trojans in the second half, although their lead reached 63-49 before the Utes rallied. They scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to earn a 68-68 tie, and Torres’ 3-pointer later made it 71-71. But the Trojans scored the next six points and managed to stay ahead, spoiling Ute freshman guard Dru Gylten’s season-high, 24-point night. Huff added 13, Kiana Moore scored 11 and Dre’Una Edwards had 10 for Utah. Mariya Moore scored 23 for USC.
“We can’t do anything about the past now,” Gylten said. “We need to learn we can’t start games like that.”
The Utes fell into a tie for fourth place in the Pac-12. That’s a big letdown, a week after they stood 18-1 and led now-No. 3 Oregon in the fourth quarter on the road, before fading to begin what has turned into a three-game losing streak.
The supposed consolation of last weekend was that the Utes were done playing the powerful Oregon schools and had a bunch of winnable games ahead. That theory disregarded how a team such as USC could come into the Huntsman Center and ruin Utah’s annual “Pink Game” in front of an energized crowd of 4,003.
The Utes celebrated three cancer survivors as honorary starters in the pregame introductions, a nice touch on a night that also included a forum for current and former athletes in various sports to observe National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
The game itself, though, was a case of the Utes’ failing to follow through on the good things they’ve done this season.