USC gets vital win over Utah, braces for the challenges ahead

The USC Trojans knew that beating Colorado and Utah this week wouldn’t dramatically improve their Pac-12 position or their national resume. Winning these two games was more about avoiding a downward slide and further reducing an already-small margin for error.

USC really can’t afford many losses to any team outside the top three in the Pac-12. UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State are the three conference teams likely to get an NCAA Tournament bid at this point in time. USC has to dominate the other eight teams and then pick off at least one or two wins against the top three to get into position for an NCAA bid.

This week against Colorado and Utah was a success, but on a modest scale. It merely set up the Trojans to pursue the bigger wins they will need.

USC beat Utah on Saturday in the Galen Center, pulling away for a 71-56 victory. USC was outrebounded by 15 against Colorado on Thursday. The Trojans knew they needed a much better team rebounding effort against Utah. They delivered, winning 41 rebounds to just 29 for Utah. USC was plus-three on the offensive glass. Four Trojans grabbed at least six boards, and nine Trojans collected at least one rebound. That’s what Andy Enfield was looking for.

The other big highlight: good 3-point shooting, a rarity for this team. USC was 7 of 16. When the Trojans do that, they’re very hard to beat. When they commit only 10 turnovers, they’re also hard to beat. A 15-point win with the numbers they posted makes complete sense. They checked all the boxes. They also held Utah star Branden Carlson without a point over the final 18:38 of the game, a tremendous achievement after Carlson scored 21 points in the game’s first 21.5 minutes.

USC now goes to Tucson and Tempe for the Arizona road trip. The Trojans will need a split. If they get it, they’ll move closer to where they want to go.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire