Los Angeles, CA – The USC Trojans entered Wednesday night’s game at the Galen Center with some early season momentum with a pair of wins over Saint Joseph’s and San Diego State in the John Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim. The Trojans clamped down defensively there and held the Aztecs to a season low 43 points in the title game. Meanwhile, the Utah Utes came into the game with a tough loss against in-state rival BYU. The Utes are led by Craig Smith who is in his first season coming over from Utah State. Smith’s ability to have his players buy in defensively has translated mostly in his first six games for Utah. However, tonight it was simply not enough, as USC overmatched them in all facets of the game, defeating the Utes 93-73.
The opening five minutes was a feeling out period for both squads, as they both seemed tight on both ends of the court. Memphis transfer guard, Boogie Ellis, got things going with a 3-pointer for the Trojans and then things started to pick up offensively. The opposing guard play for Utah, led by transfers David Jenkins and Rollie Worster also started to run the offense more fluidly, with weaving actions and better ball movement. The gameplan from Smith seemed to then shift towards the Utes guards penetrating towards the basket. USC’s PF Isaiah Mobley displayed his offensive versatility early on when he grabbed a defensive board and went coast to coast on the other end with a left-hand layup. The junior big man gave his team a boost with the nice play just before the under 12-minute TV timeout.
USC’s length made it hard for Utah to find driving angles, especially with the 2-3 zone that Head Coach Andy Enfield implemented. Drew Peterson, the 6’9” guard for USC was especially prevalent in that zone and gave the Trojans their biggest lead of the first half, when he showed off his ball handling ability and finished with a mid-range jumper to give his team the 35-24 lead. From there, Ellis made it clear why he was a 5-star recruit coming out of San Diego and took over the remaining three minutes of the half. A pair of 3-pointers and a breakaway dunk off a steal gave USC a 48-28 lead going into halftime. Utah had a rough end to the half and shot 11-of-37 (29.7%), while USC was the complete opposite and shot 21-of-34 (61.8%) from the field due in large part to high quality looks and shot selection from the experienced players.
Utah’s Both Gach, who only had four points in the first half, came out hot and effortlessly scored nine points within the five minutes of the second half. This is Gach’s second stint with Utah, after playing for Minnesota last season. The SF showed that he has a quick first step to the basket and helped trim the lead down to 14. The rhythm of the game was then disrupted due to the high volume of fouls on both sides. Both squads only had four team fouls in the first half, while Utah picked up 13 more and USC committed and additional 10 in the second half. USC’s offensive gameplan made a clear emphasis to feed the post and get action going on with Mobley and fellow big men, Chevez Goodwin and Isaiah White.
Although the Trojans got to the line at a high amount, a weakness of theirs was in free throw shooting, only knocking down 14 of 25 (56.0%) Despite the missed opportunities from the free throw line, the athleticism of USC started to wear down Utah in all areas of the game. The play that ultimately sealed the win for USC was with an Ellis steal and alley-oop pass to forward Max Agbonkpolo. As a result, the Trojans maintained their lead and cruised to the 20-point victory.
Mobley led USC in scoring with 21 points and crashed the boards with 13 rebounds. Ellis was right behind with 19 points. Gach led both teams with 28 points, 24 coming in the second half.
USC (7-0, 1-0) will try to extend their winning streak in a non-conference matchup at home on December 7th against Eastern Kentucky. Utah (5-2, 0-1) will host another Pac-12 opponent in the California Bears on December 5th.