No. 20 USC opens Pac-12 play Wednesday against Utah

Junior guard Ethan Anderson brings up the ball during USC’s game against Dixie State Nov. 22.
Junior guard Ethan Anderson brings up the ball during USC’s game against Dixie State Nov. 22. Anderson is averaging 7 points per game. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

USC’s undefeated men’s basketball team will open up its Pac-12 schedule Wednesday against Utah at Galen Center. Utah enters the game with a 5-1 record, with its only loss to No. 12 BYU. After winning the Wooden Legacy Tournament last week, No. 20 USC is favored to win the game by 3.5 points. 

Defense has been the primary factor behind the Trojans’ early success, as USC allows the second-fewest points per game in the Pac-12 behind Arizona. The Trojans also nationally rank in the top-10 in defensive rebounds per game. 

Junior forward Isaiah Mobley has started the season averaging 9.2 rebounds per game. With senior guard Drew Peterson, redshirt senior forward Chevez Goodwin and Mobley at or over 6’9”, USC’s length forces other teams to settle for low-percentage shots. On average, teams have made 34.4% of their shots against the Trojans, the sixth lowest in college basketball. 

USC’s defense was on display in its victory over San Diego State who the Trojans held to only 15 points in the first half.

USC’s offense has averaged 78.2 points per game. SDSU’s defense is in the top-40 nationally in points allowed per game.

“We’re trying to continue the style of play we had last year,” Peterson said Tuesday after practice. “I think we showed against San Diego State how tough we are defensively.” 

The Trojans offense ranks outside of the top-50 in points per game and could be an issue as the Trojans face other defenses. The Utes defense has allowed only 60.2 points per game, just behind San Diego State. 

“Utah’s a very good team,” said Head Coach Andy Enfield. “They have size; and they have a lot of shooting; and they’re excellent position defenders.” 

Mobley, Goodwin and junior guard Boogie Ellis have all performed well offensively this year, averaging in the double digits in points per game. Mobley scored a season-high 18 points against SDSU and played a large role in USC’s win. 

Mobley spoke about his mentality during the low-scoring game. 

“Be aggressive and do what is necessary for our team to win,” Mobley said. “I knew that’s what it would take, so I tried to bring that to the table.”

However, free throw shooting has been an issue for USC. The Trojans are shooting 57.7% from the free throw line as a team, ranking in the bottom ten of the 358 Division 1 basketball teams. Three of USC’s starters, Peterson, Mobley, and junior guard Ethan Anderson, shoot at or below 50% at the free throw line. 

“A few of our big guys need to be more consistent from the foul line,” Enfield said. 

The Utes offense is led by junior center Branden Carlson, a 7-footer averaging 15.7 points and 7 rebounds per game. Carlson is having his best scoring season of his career so far and will be the Trojans first test against a huge center this season.

Additionally, senior guard David Jenkins Jr. has been Utah’s most accurate 3-point and free throw shooter among the team’s starters, shooting 41.9% and 90.9% respectively. As a whole, Utah has been accurate from the free throw line, shooting 77.5%. Restraining from fouling will be a crucial aspect of USC’s path to victory in this game. 

The game will tip off at 8:30 p.m. and can be streamed on the Pac-12 Network.