Southern Cal-Utah Preview
Delon Wright is no doubt relishing another shot at one of his hometown teams, and now he’s got Jordan Loveridge with him.
Wright, Loveridge and No. 10 Utah look to open Pac-12 play in strong fashion Friday night at home when they meet a Southern California team they swept a season ago.
Wright is shooting a conference-best 58.6 percent while leading Utah (10-2) in scoring for the second straight season, averaging 15.8 points.
The Los Angeles native was a freshman last season when he totaled 42 points, making 20 of 22 free throws, as the Utes won both games against USC.
Loveridge totaled 35 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in those contests. The junior forward returned from a seven-game absence due to a knee injury with 14 points off the bench in Tuesday’s 85-49 rout of NAIA foe Carroll College.
Coach Larry Krystkowiak did not indicate whether Loveridge will start Friday.
”It was fun to be back out there, especially after watching all the big games,” Loveridge said. ”I’m just glad I could help them out tonight. I was just trying to find my game rhythm, back in this setting. Coach didn’t want to throw me right in there during conference play.”
The Utes, the conference’s top shooting team at 50.6 percent, have won three straight and 10 in a row at home. The Trojans are shooting 42.4 percent to place them at the bottom of the Pac-12.
USC (8-4) finished last in the conference with a 2-16 mark in 2013-14 in Andy Enfield’s first season as coach. Hope for improvement revolves around freshman Jordan McLaughlin, who averages 13.3 points to lead the Trojans.
McLaughlin, however, went 4 of 14 for eight points in Tuesday’s 64-56 home win over Vermont. USC had a 17-point halftime advantage cut to six before holding on.
"We came out lackadaisical (in the second half)," McLaughlin said. "We had a big lead so we thought we had the game in the bag."
The last two games have seen Enfield go with a lineup that has included three freshmen guards since Malik Marquetti replaced UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt on Dec. 21. The growing pains are evident with the Trojans last in the conference in 3-point percentage (31.7) and free-throw percentage (62.0).
"This group right now is really the foundation for our future the next few seasons," Enfield said.
The Utes lead the Pac-12 in rebound margin at plus-9.0 behind heralded Austrian freshman center Jakob Poeltl, who averages a team-high 8.4 boards. The Trojans are second worst in the conference at plus-2.4, and will likely use Serbian forward Nikola Jovanovic to match up with Poeltl.
"They have experience and they have good size inside," Enfield said. "But they in my opinion are just a very good all-around basketball team that knows their strengths and they play to their strengths."