Fresh off of a 70-58 victory on Wednesday night over the Colorado Buffaloes, the USC men’s basketball team will rest for a couple days before welcoming the Utah Utes to Galen Center Sunday night.
In light of the recent suspension of sophomore shooting guard De’Anthony Melton by the University for his involvement in the Tony Bland scandal, the Trojans hope to use the momentum from their recent victory over Colorado to pull off another home victory before traveling up north to play both Oregon and Oregon State.
The Utes, meanwhile, come into Sunday’s game with a similar 10-5 record overall and 2-2 Pac-12 record and the second-best scoring defense in the conference.
After a successful road trip to both Oregon schools, the Utes lost two straight games to Arizona and Arizona State last weekend.
Led by a stingy defense, Utah is anchored by a combination of explosive guard play and physical forwards who can protect the paint.
Starting forwards Tyler Rawson and David Collette are both 6’10” and capable of scoring double figures every night. While Collette is known for being more of a post player, Rawson can step outside and shoot an outside shot with efficiency, hitting 26 of his 66 3s this season.
In terms of Utah’s other outside shooters, guard Justin Bibbins may be small at just 5’8” and 150 lb., but he has hit 36 of his 80 3-point attempts this season and has scored 98 points in his past five games.
In response, to Utah’s size, USC will look to big men Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright to carry the brunt of the Utes’ offensive and defensive force.
Although Metu made just three of his 13 shots against Colorado, the junior forward contributed on the defensive end by collecting season-highs in blocks (6) and rebounds (13).
In terms of USC’s other starters, guards senior Elijah Stewart and sophomore Jonah Mathews have experienced some inconsistent play in the Pac-12.
Stewart, a proficient 3-point shooter for USC last season, is averaging just 7.4 points per game and has hit just three 3-pointers on 14 shots (21 percent).
Mathews, Stewart’s backcourt counterpart, has similarly struggled, hitting his first long balls in Pac-12 play on Wednesday night versus Colorado, breaking a streak of 10 straight missed 3s.
To pick up the slack, USC’s bench has been surging as of late, as Jordan Usher and forward Nick Rakocevic have played huge offensive spark plugs for a Southern California squad that has struggled shooting the ball.
Usher, who has been praised by USC coaches for his physicality and aggressive play, leads Trojan freshmen in terms of minutes (13.1) and scoring (3.4).
Rakocevic is another Trojan who has shot and scored well, while also providing help defensively. Since USC’s win over Washington State, the sophomore has made 24 of his last 34 shots (70 percent) for 52 points and 27 rebounds.
Even if Rakocevic and the rest of the Troy bench can contribute offensively, USC has struggled to shoot and defend the perimeter in Pac-12 play.
If the team doesn’t protect the perimeter like it did against Stanford (5-22), the Trojans could be in for a long night defensively.
The Trojans are set to tip off against the Utes at 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Galen Center.