USC’s men’s basketball team is in the midst of a three-game losing streak and is looking to get back to its winning ways on Thursday as the Trojans (9-7, 0-3) travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to take on the Utah Utes.
The Trojans’ anemic offense might be particularly concerning to USC basketball fans — In the opening three games of conference play, the team has been outscored 259-186.
Head coach Andy Enfield addressed the offensive struggles that have plagued the Trojans through their first 16 contests, most notably during a 20-point loss at home to the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats on Sunday.
“We definitely turned the ball over too many times and had too many possessions where we didn’t score,” Enfield said. “Against a good team … you have to convert.”
The Trojans have dropped their first three contests in Pac-12 play, something that they had not done since the 2011-2012 campaign.
That year USC was able to stop their early season slide with a victory at home against the Utes (12-4, 1-3). Enfield’s squad will be hoping to imitate that feat this season on the Utes’ home court.
In the past few years, even when former star player O.J. Mayo led the team to the NCAA tournament, the Trojans have looked listless on the court. That does not seem to be a problem for this year’s squad, though.
“I’m very proud of our effort,” Enfield said after the Arizona contest.
A good deal of that effort is coming from sophomore forward Strahinja Gavrilovic.
The Serbia native was seeing only limited action early on in the season, but has seen his minutes increase recently. Against the Wildcats, Gavrilovic provided 10 points and four rebounds coming off the bench in 19 minutes of action.
“I just used my chance,” Gavrilovic said. “I tried to play aggressive, give it my best and try to help this team win.”
Another player who seems to be making the most of his chances is senior guard Pe’Shon Howard.
The former Oak Hill Academy star struggled coming out of the gate this season, but seems to have earned Enfield’s trust, and has become a steadying presence for the Trojans.
In the game against Arizona, Howard played the third-most minutes on the team (33), behind junior wing Byron Wesley and freshman guard Julian Jacobs, who has had an impressive first season at USC. With a very young squad surrounding him, Howard’s experience will be key in leading the team during the grueling Pac-12 schedule.
If the Trojans want to leave Utah with another win on their resume, Gavrilovic, Howard and the rest of the team will have to have a big day.
The Utes are 12-1 at home, with the only loss coming in a two-point nail-biter at the hands of the then 10th-ranked Oregon Ducks. Though they aren’t ranked in either the AP or the Coaches Poll, Utah is fourth nationally in field goal percentage at 51.3.
USC fans might feel like they are experiencing déjà vu with this basketball team, as USC has struggled out of the gate in each of the past three years.
This campaign, however, has seen USC drop seven games to teams with a combined 85-28 record through Jan. 13. Three of the losses were to teams in the top 25 (No. 1 Arizona, No. 6 Villanova and No. 25 UCLA), while six of the defeats were to teams in the top 68 of RPI standings, a metric taken into consideration when determining the 68-team field for the NCAA Tournament.
Following the game at Utah, the Trojans will continue their Pac-12 road trip by heading to Boulder, Colo. to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on Jan. 18. They will then return home to take on Stanford and California at the Galen Center.