Mountain men: Trojans sweep Colorado-Utah road trip, boost NCAA odds

Remember when the Mountain road trip used to be a nightmare for Andy Enfield and USC basketball? Enfield and the Trojans used to have an awful time on the Boulder-Salt Lake City swing through Colorado and Utah. The 2021 USC team which eventually reached the Elite Eight got swept on its Mountain road trip. The 2020 team got swept as well. It might not have made the NCAA Tournament had it not rebounded with home wins over Arizona, Arizona State, and then UCLA in the Jonah Mathews game.

This used to be a miserable part of every USC hoops season.

Not anymore.

Last year’s team swept the Mountain trip. This year’s team, under immense bubble pressure with little margin for error, completed another Mountain sweep to grab two road wins and create distance from the various bubble teams which have lost this past week.

USC handled Colorado in Boulder on Thursday. The Trojans turned around on Saturday evening and scored a solid 62-49 win over the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City.

USC and everyone else knew that Utah would be without guard Gabe Madsen for this game. That gave the Trojans a chance to really clamp down on the Utes and smother them.

Holding Utah under 50 points certainly qualifies as “smothering.”

The only thing USC did poorly was protect the defensive glass. Utah grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and created 13 more field goal attempts than the Trojans, 63-50. However, Utah couldn’t convert those extra chances. USC’s halfcourt defense remained strong the whole way.

Kobe Johnson — as he has done several times this season — hit a dagger 3-pointer in the final three minutes of regulation to close the door. He finished with 12 points and 3 steals, helping Boogie Ellis (16 points) and Drew Peterson (14) bring home this valuable victory.

USC’s bubble fortunes across the nation on Saturday were mixed, but that’s a separate topic for another time. Two road wins when being squarely on the bubble will undeniably improve USC’s overall position. The Trojans know they’re nowhere close to being an NCAA Tournament lock, but they do know that if they can grab at least one win on their final homestand of the regular season — against Arizona and Arizona State in the Galen Center — they will enter the Pac-12 Tournament in a favorable bubble position.

Speaking of the Pac-12 Tournament: USC won’t have to play a first-round game in Las Vegas. The Trojans clinched a first-round bye and will start in the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 9.

USC got a lot of good work done this week in the mountains. The road trip from hell is now heavenly for Andy Enfield.

If USC wants to gain an even more heavenly existence, it will beat a bunch of Sun Devils next week.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire