Trojans challenge 10th-ranked Utes in Pac-12 opener

Salt Lake City, UT (SportsNetwork.com) - Pac-12 Conference action gets underway for a pair of teams on Friday night, as the USC Trojans pay a visit to the 10th-ranked Utah Utes.

 

USC has won twice as many games as it has lost to this point in the campaign, logging an 8-4 mark. The Trojans were 64-56 winners at home versus Vermont in their most recent bout, and they've won two in a row since losing in overtime to Army (85-77) on Dec. 13. USC is 2-0 in true road games, and 3-2 away from home overall when you factor in its 1-2 record in neutral-site affairs.

 

Utah has claimed victory in its last three games, the most recent of which being an 85-49 shellacking of visiting Carroll College (MT) on Tuesday. The only two losses for the team have come against ranked foes in San Diego State (53-49) and Kansas (63-60). The Utes are 8-0 at home this season, and outscoring visitors by a whopping 85-58, while shooting 56 percent from the field and enjoying a +11.6 rebounding margin.

 

The series between these two teams is knotted at 17-17, but Utah has won three the last three meetings after sweeping the series last year and defeating USC in the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament.

 

Strahinja Gavrilovic scored 15 points, Nikola Jovanovic finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Katin Reinhardt chipped in 11 points for the Trojans in their recent win over Vermont. USC, which has won six of its last seven games as it stares down tonight's league lid lifter, shot just 41.1 percent from the floor, missing all but one of its seven 3-point tries along the way, but held the Catamounts to 30.2 percent field goal efficiency, which included a woeful 5-of-23 showing out on the perimeter.

 

Despite its favorable record, USC has been lackluster at best on offense this season, netting 68.2 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .424 overall, .317 beyond the arc, and .620 at the free-throw line. The Trojans have performed better at the defensive end, yielding just 66.1 ppg, with foes connecting on only 38.9 percent of their total shots, which includes a 29.3 percent effort from long distance. Jordan McLaughlin (13.3 ppg, 5.2 apg) leads the team in both scoring and assists, while Jovanovic and Reinhardt turn in 11.8 and 10.8 ppg, respectively, the former also spearheading the club's rebounding effort with 8.6 rpg.

 

Carroll College didn't stand much of a chance in its recent attempt at upsetting Utah, as the Fighting Saints shot just 38.8 percent from the floor, which actually included a 6-of-15 performance from 3-point range (.400). They committed 17 turnovers and were beaten badly on the boards (38-15), all while allowing the Utes to drain a sizzling 64.7 percent of their field goal attempts, which included half of their 16 3-point tries. Jordan Loveridge, who had been battling a gimpy knee, made his first appearance since late November and scored a game-high 14 points, knocking down 3-of-4 long-range launches, while Brekkot Chapman tacked on 11 points and Chris Reyes 10 more for Utah in the winning effort.

 

Delon Wright, who had seven helpers in the win over Carroll, has been the Utes' most productive player this season, as he averages 15.8 points and 5.3 assists per game. Loveridge has appeared in only five games, but is netting 12 ppg thank to his 11-of-20 effort from 3-point land, and Jakob Poeltl rounds out the double-digit scorers for Utah, which generates 76.1 ppg while permitting only 56.9 ppg -- the latter ranking the team among the best in the nation. The Utes are outshooting the opposition (.506 to .366), while also laying claim to a sizable +9.0 rebounding margin.

 

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