February 6, 2019 by Nicholas Yekikian
LOS ANGELES – With Pac-12 play more than halfway over and the Trojans just keeping their heads above water in a three way tie for second in the conference, a win against the Utes on Wednesday was something USC needed dearly.
That is not what they got.
Instead USC (13-10 overall, 6-4 Pac-12) fell to Utah (12-10, 6-4) in a 77 – 70 loss behind 18 points from Jonah Matthews and 17 from Benny Boatwright. It was the first time the Trojans lost a Pac-12 game at home this season.
Head coach Andy Enfield described the Trojans’ offensive effort in the first half as “nonchalant,” and he couldn’t have been more spot on.
The Trojans were down 37-23 at halftime and to that point they had missed 19 shots, logged just three assists and one rebound. They trailed the Utes in every offensive category.
“We just came out slow. Plain and simple,” Boatwright said.
After finishing the first 20 minutes of play shooting just 34.5 percent and 2 for 10 from beyond the arc, things only got marginally better for the Trojans who finished the game shooting 38 percent with nine threes.
“We were playing hard enough on defense to get back in the game, and we made some shots,” Enfield said. “Unfortunately we just couldn’t get that lead down. … It was a tough last six minutes but at least the guys were playing hard.”
The Trojans, who now sit in third place in the Pac-12, also might have hurt their chances at being considered for the NCAA tournament after this fourth conference loss.
“This has been the most disappointing game we’ve had in the last month and a half,” Enfield said. “We have to play better as a team.”
With just under eight minutes left in the game, Matthews hit three straight three-pointers to help to cut into a 20-point Ute lead. And though the Trojans would continue to chip away, they never got closer than seven.
“We started playing harder,” Matthews said of their effort in the second half. “We’re as talented as any team in America. We just have to play hard.”
USC’s leading scorer on the season, Nick Rakocevic was on the court for most of the game but got into foul trouble early. With two flagrants called on him before the half, Rakocevic was careful and accrued just 10 points on the night – well under his average of 16.2 points per game.
“[Foul trouble] has happened quite a bit and [Rakocevic] has to do a better job of trying to play within the rules,” Enfield said.
But it wasn’t just Rakocevic who was quiet. Derryck Thornton shot just 20 percent and didn’t make either of his three point attempts.
The Trojans don’t have much time to regroup from the loss though, as they take on Colorado on Saturday night at 7p.m. in the Galen Center.