The No. 7 Trojans, who beat the No. 10 UCLA Bruins in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday, failed to overcome the No. 2 Utah Utes in the second round Thursday night, falling 80-72 at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
In the 8-point defeat, the Trojans were outshot inside and outside the 3-point line, outrebounded by a margin of 35-31 and were beaten in terms of ball distribution with Southern California earning just nine assists to Utah’s 22.
Head coach Andy Enfield complimented the Trojans overall effort, but criticized the lack of defensive execution, especially with Utah sophomore forward Kyle Kuzma scoring a team-high 23 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
”We didn’t play great tonight, but we played hard enough, especially in the second half to come back,” Enfield said, according to the Associated Press. ”Their players, like Kuzma, stepped up and had a big game against us and that’s what happens. You try to take something away or maybe their first or second option and if the third or fourth option beats you, then you lose.”
Pac-12 Player of the Year and potential Wooden Award candidate Jakob Poeltl was effective, scoring 14 points and helping with eight rebounds and two blocks.
The Utes were especially keen on defense, limiting the Trojans to just 37 percent from deep and limited the previously potent freshman Bennie Boatwright and sophomore Elijah Stewart to a combined 8 points off of 3-of-16 shooting.
As for the Trojans’ bright spots, sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin scored a game-high 24 points off of 9-of-16 shooting with two rebounds and a steal. Fellow junior guards Julian Jacobs and Katin Reinhardt added 16 and 13, respectively.
And while the loss was hard for Jacobs, he emphasized the importance of moving on.
“It’s what our coaching staff and the entire community around this team has emphasized — keep fighting,” Jacobs told the Los Angeles Times.
And while the defeat may have knocked the Trojans out of Pac-12 title contention, they still are in the running for the NCAA tournament. They find out whether they will earn a spot in March Madness on Sunday.