Utah-Southern Cal Preview
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak lauds his squad for recognizing its faults, working to correct them and quickly moving on to the next challenge.
The 11th-ranked Utes spoke candidly following a rare setback before focusing on trying to win a fifth straight meeting with Pac-12 basement dweller Southern California on Sunday in Los Angeles.
"We didn’t play with energy. We waited for things to happen but they never came," guard Delon Wright said after finishing with 15 points in Thursday’s 69-59 loss at UCLA. "One of the problems was when things weren’t going our way, we couldn’t find out how to fix it. We just have to try to bounce back and improve against USC."
After Utah (16-4, 6-2) suffered its first loss to an unranked opponent, Krystkowiak conducted a film session prior to Friday’s practice and let his players point out the issues. He admitted an illness circulating the locker room has affected the Utes’ energy level, but he believes they’ll be prepared for the Trojans (9-11, 1-7).
Utah, which is 3-4 when playing outside Salt Lake City, sits 1 1/2 games back of No. 6 Arizona for the conference lead.
"We’re not the kind of team that can just show up. There were numerous things we did poorly (against UCLA)," Krystkowiak said. "We didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t do enough to put ourselves in a position to win. It’s time for everyone to look at themselves and find ways to improve. We have a couple of days to do that and go out and compete against USC. This is what’s great about sports."
Utah’s wins in conference play have come by an average of 23.5 points, including a 79-55 victory over USC on Jan. 2 in its Pac-12 opener. The Utes held the Trojans to 38.5 percent from the field and rank third in the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 38.3.
USC is the worst-shooting team in the conference at 41.9 percent, but it kept pace with Colorado on Thursday before falling 98-94 in three overtimes. Katin Reinhardt scored a career-high 35 points and Nikola Jovanovic added a personal-best 30 before both fouled out.
The Trojans, who have lost 27 of 30 against Pac-12 foes, scored their most points since a 95-86 overtime win over Oregon in 2008 but suffered their fifth straight loss.
"We lost, so 35 points didn’t matter," said Reinhardt, who tied the school record with nine 3-pointers. "I feel terrible. I feel I let the team down when I fouled out (in the third overtime). We have to grind it out, get better, learn from it and learn how to finish."
Jovanovic and Malik Martin scored 14 points apiece in the conference opener against Utah. Reinhardt finished 2 of 7 from the field and scored only five, beginning a stretch during which he shot 31.0 percent and averaged 8.8 points through his first four Pac-12 games. The UNLV transfer has bounced back to average 19.5 points over his last four.
Wright (10 assists) and Brandon Taylor finished with 11 points apiece for the Utes in the last matchup. Jordan Loveridge tied his season-high with 14, but he’s totaled just 12 while shooting 4 of 12 from the field over his last two.
Utah’s four-game win streak over USC is currently its longest against any Pac-12 opponent.