The USC men’s basketball team put an end to a nine-game losing streak on Saturday night with a decisive 62-45 victory over the Utah Utes (5-16, 2-7) at the Galen Center. The Trojans improved to 6-16 on the season and picked up their first Pac-12 win in nine attempts.
“The two groups I’m happy for are our players and our fans,” coach Kevin O’Neill said. “I thought our guys did a good job tonight of digging in there.”
USC was paced by strong performances from sophomore forward Garrett Jackson and sophomore guard Maurice Jones, who poured in 16 points apiece. Junior guard Greg Allen and freshman guard Byron Wesley added nine points each, and freshman guard Alexis Moore finished with eight points of his own.
“We knew we had to get a win,” Jackson said. “We felt like our backs were against the wall.”
The Trojans eclipsed 60 points for the seventh time this season, an achievement aided by all-around unselfish play.
“We shared the ball; 16 assists is the most we’ve had in a long time,” O’Neill said.
Utah had three players finish in double-figures, led by forward Dijon Farr’s 12 points. They struggled to shoot the ball during the contest, though, finishing 18-49 (36.7 percent) and just 3-15 from beyond the arc. Further complicating matters was their passing, as the Utes had five assists compared to 17 turnovers.
“I thought our guys did a really good job defensively, forced some early turnovers that led to easy baskets,” O’Neill said.
The Trojans jumped out to a 13-2 lead midway through the first half, initially hitting their first four field goal attempts. The hot start was a far cry from USC’s effort against Colorado two days earlier, in which the Buffaloes established an early advantage that they never relinquished.
“I’m just happy we won,” Jackson said. “It’s been so frustrating for everyone for so long. I’m just ready to keep building on this.”
Putting an end to what had been USC’s longest losing streak in more than 20 years was a major boost for the team.
“These guys are happy obviously to win,” O’Neill said. “I’m sure they’re still disappointed that we’ve had the number of losses we’ve had. I think they’re relieved too. I’ll be honest with you, I’m relieved.”
Only six of USC’s players are on a scholarship following a season-ending injury to redshirt sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon, who tore his medial collateral ligament against Colorado. Even with a depleted roster, the Trojans hope to expand on what was their third double-digit victory of the season.
“It has definitely been frustrating to see your teammates go down with injuries … but our guys know we can’t fall apart,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to stick together and be there for one another.”
Next up for USC is a trip up the West Coast to take on the Washington State Cougars (11-10, 3-6) on Feb. 2 followed by the Washington Huskies (14-7, 7-2) two days later.
“We’ve actually played better on the road than we have at home,” O’Neill said. “We’ve not been a good home team energy-wise, we were better tonight. So hopefully we can go up there and play a great basketball game and try to get a win.”