Men’s basketball aims to stay undefeated at home

Redshirt junior guard Derryck Thornton shoots against ASU at Galen Center Jan. 26. (Josh Dunst/Daily Trojan)

Coming off their first road win of conference play, the Trojans are motivated to remain undefeated at home in Pac-12 play en route to achieving their ultimate goal.

“We have a lot of motivation,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re trying to win the Pac-12 regular season.”

Standing in the Trojans’ path to home perfection is the staggering Utah team. After picking up four straight wins against some of the conference’s bottom feeders, the Utes have since dropped two tough single-digits losses at home.

In fact, the season as a whole has been tough for head coach Larry Krystkowiak and his bunch.

Following a six-win season in his inaugural campaign as head coach, Krystkowiak has coached the Utes to five straight 20-win seasons and five consecutive top-four Pac-12 finishes. However, barring some unexpected change in play, the 2018-19 season may be the end of Utah’s recent streaks of success.

One of the main reasons behind Utah’s mediocrity this season is its poor defense. For the first time in Krystkowiak’s tenure, Utah is allowing its opponents to score over 70 points a game. In fact, the Utes are having their worst defensive season in three decades statistically, as their 73.4 nightly allowed points is the highest since the 1978-79 season.

On the offensive side, Utah has followed that same theme of mediocrity, as it continues to fall in the middle of the Pac-12 in scoring. Despite a mediocre ranking in total scoring, the Utes are statistically the best shooting team in the conference.

“They have four or five guys on the court that can make threes, so we have to guard the 3-point line,” Enfield said.

Furthermore, the Trojans have to watch out for two major elements of Utah’s offense — senior point guard Sedrick Barefield and four-star freshman forward Timmy Allen.

As expected by Utah fans, Allen slightly struggled at the start of the season, averaging just 9.1 points in non-conference play; however, against Pac-12 competitors, the freshman has upped his nightly scoring to 14.4 points.

Allen has become one of the rare offensive weapons for the Utes, and has also asserted himself as a scorer who needs to be accounted for before tipoff.

However, it’s clear who Utah’s main go-to guy is. Coming into the matchup with an average of slightly over 16 points an outing, senior guard Sedrick Barefield is currently Pac-12’s seventh-highest scorer and is the conference’s highest-scoring point guard.

Scoring against the Trojans won’t be easy for Barefield, as he will match up with one of the best guard on-ball defenders in the conference in redshirt junior point guard Derryck Thornton. With 29 steals on the season, Thornton is eighth in the conference.

“I’m going to try to limit [Barefield’s] scoring,” Thornton said. “He’s a great player, but I’ve [played] against them my whole life.”

When Thornton isn’t disrupting the offense of the opposing team, he is making the lives and scoring opportunities of his teammates easier, evident in his five assists per game. The Trojans have focused on sharing the ball this season: Enfield’s bunch currently leads the Pac-12 in team assists with 16.5 per game.

“Our players are doing a great job of sharing the ball, making the extra pass and creating for their teammates,” Enfield said.

In their recent 93-84 commanding victory over Washington State, the Trojans led with 19 assists and reached their highest scoring output since mid-November. Throughout the game, USC rode the hot hands of senior forward Bennie Boatwright and junior guard Jonah Mathews, in addition to the dominating interior presence of breakout star junior forward Nick Rakocevic.

Expect the Trojans to continue to follow the same leaders as they square off against the Utes at Galen Center at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.