Southern California will attempt to add an impressive line on its NCAA Tournament resume Saturday when it visits Utah for a Pac-12 game in Salt Lake City.
Teetering on the edge of at-large eligibility, USC (20-8, 12-5 Pac-12) has run out of favorable matchups the rest of the way.
A daunting three-game close to the regular season starts at Utah (17-12, 10-8) before the Trojans head home for games against No. 7 Arizona and Arizona State. That stretch is followed by the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Trojans reached 20 victories for a program-record fourth consecutive season on Thursday with a convincing 84-65 win at Colorado. Boogie Ellis had 21 points, while Kobe Johnson and Reese Dixon-Waters each added 15.
USC’s 56.9 percent shooting performance from the field was its second-best of the season.
“Huge (win). It’s very tough to win in a place like Boulder,” Johnson said, while walking off the court Thursday. “To be able to win like this feels amazing. We ain’t done yet. We have Utah next. We’re gonna be ready.”
Utah likely will have to make a run through the Pac-12 tournament in order to reach the NCAA Tournament. But the Utes are not going down with a fight.
Playing without starting guards Rollie Worster (ankle) and Gabe Madsen (lower leg), Utah still was able to give No. 4 UCLA fits Thursday in an eventual 78-71 defeat. Utah was within three points at 62-59 with five minutes remaining and outrebounded UCLA 37-34.
Mike Saunders Jr. filled the void in the Utah backcourt with a career-best 25 points. He entered with just 41 total points scored in 15 previous games and just seven of those points came in conference play.
“Man, we gave ourselves a chance,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “Obviously we were playing a lot of different lineups tonight. I was proud of our guys, like just incredibly proud of our guys and how hard we competed.”
The Utes have now lost three consecutive games and five of their last seven, although they are 12-5 at home.
In the previous matchup between the teams this season, USC earned a 71-56 victory at home on Jan. 14 as Ellis scored 17 points. He leads USC with 17.3 points per game. Utah’s Branden Carlson scored 21 points in that game and leads the Utes with 16.3 per contest.
–Field Level Media