Basketball looks to close season with road wins

Junior forward Nick Rakocevic shoots a free throw against UCLA Jan. 19 at Galen Center. (Josh Dunst/Daily Trojan)

Coming off a tough overtime loss to UCLA last Thursday, men’s basketball looks to bounce back in its upcoming road trip against Utah and Colorado. The close UCLA matchup concluded with a time-expiring 3-pointer that put the game out of reach for the Trojans despite a strong 3-point shooting effort.

“We are trying to look at the positive things that we did right to build momentum [off of the UCLA game],” senior forward Bennie Boatwright said. “We are going to keep getting better.”

The Trojans will first travel to Utah to face the Utes on Thursday at 7 p.m. Utah is currently one game ahead of USC in the crowded Pac-12 standings, and a win could put them in the top portion of the conference.

Utah, which most recently lost at home to Colorado, will rely heavily on senior guard Sedrick Barefield. Barefield leads the Utes with 16.8 points, 3.9 assists and one steal per game. He put up 19 points against the Buffaloes and 33 points against Washington State in his last two games.

USC will have to be much more aggressive on the defensive end in this matchup, as they fell last time the two  teams met by a score of 77-70. Utah showcased a strong first-half effort and continually dictated the pace of play on offense, helping the Utes to find the open man through patient passing and limiting the number of Trojan possessions.

USC will face off against Colorado in its final game of the season Saturday. The Trojans also lost to the Buffaloes the last time they played by a score of 69-65. Colorado dominated USC on the glass, out-rebounding them 38-29. Additionally, USC only shot 29.2 percent from the 3-point range.

The Trojans hope for strong performances from their two seniors, who had noteworthy games the last time they played Colorado. Boatwright had a commanding all-around performance, putting up 24 points, five rebounds and four assists. Guard Shaqquan Aaron contributed 13 points of his own, involving himself in many crucial plays.

Colorado is one of the eight teams in the Pac-12 that are currently separated by fewer than three games. This final matchup may be crucial for the Trojans because of this, as USC could either rise or fall significantly in the standings heading into the Pac-12 tournament. If the Trojans perform well in both games, they will have a chance at receiving the bye that is granted to the top four seeds.

If the Trojans are successful this weekend, they could set themselves up for a strong performance in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament. USC will first travel to Utah for a 7 p.m. matchup on Thursday before facing Colorado Saturday at 2 p.m.