USC is good.
The 16th-ranked Trojans have size, they have length. Most of the key pieces on Andy Enfield’s roster helped the program to the Elite Eight last season, offering optimism that this season can end in a Pac-12 title and another deep March run.
The University of Utah is in a much different place than USC, a fact that was hammered home late Saturday afternoon at the Huntsman Center. The Trojans used that size and length on both ends of the floor to keep the Utes at arm’s length for most of the afternoon, registering a 79-67 win for Utah’s eight straight loss.
This marks Utah’s first eight-game losing streak since it lost that many in a row between Jan. 26 and Feb. 23, 2012, the program’s first season in the Pac-12.
“USC is a very, very good basketball team,” Utes head coach Craig Smith said. “There’s nothing they don’t have. They have great point guard play, great athleticism up and down the lineup, elite size and versatility, and they just play a lot of different ways. When you make mistakes, they make you pay.”
USC (16-2, 6-2 Pac-12) was in control the whole way, but the Utes (8-12, 1-9 Pac-12) hung tough, cutting an 18-point lead down to nine at 56-47 with 10:34 to go. The Trojans took their foot off the gas, throwing errant passes and committing uncharacteristic turnovers, but their effort was still enough on this particular day.
A Chevez Goodwin layup after a Utah defensive breakdown pushed the lead back to 11 before free throws from Boogie Ellis and Isaiah White got it back to 14 with 9:00 left.
The rest of the second half took on a back-and-forth tone, Utah able to score, but unable to get enough stops to get over the hump. Finally, the Trojans closed the door.
Up 11, 6-foot-8 wing Drew Peterson hit a 3-pointer, and after Gabe Madsen hit one of his own, Peterson came back with one more triple to extend the Trojans back to a 14-point lead, 73-59, with 2:56 left.
Peterson finished with 23 points on 9-for-10 shooting, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range.
“That guy, he does everything,” Smith said. “He can guard anybody, he can play point guard, they can be small with him at the 4, and then he’s kind of a triple-double guy at the wing. I’m not saying he’s Scottie Pippen, but he has that kind of game.”
In a game between teams wanting to play in the halfcourt, USC did that better for most of the first half. Defensively, the Trojans, one of the biggest, longest teams in the nation, used those attributes to disrupt passing lanes and alter shots. At one point, the Utes went 4:54 without a point, shooting just 5 for 20 from the floor at the 5:48 mark of the first half.
On the other end, Utah was defending at a sufficient level, but USC began leaning on the Utes. When Peterson knocked down a 3-pointer from the left baseline, it gave the Trojans their largest lead of the afternoon to that point, 29-14, with 5:36 before halftime. Utah, though, hung tough.
The sharpshooting Madsen looked the part, scoring all 11 of his first-half points across the final 5:03 of the half.
A one-dribble pull-up jumper from just outside the lane brought the Utes to within eight with 1:36 before halftime. After the teams traded misses, Madsen’s third triple of the half, this one from the left wing, sent the Utes to the halftime locker room trailing, 35-30.
Madsen finished with a career-high 20 points on 6 for 12 from the floor and 5 for 11 from deep.