The Trojans move one step closer to March Madness

USC may have walked away with a win but there is still a lot of work to do before the tournament.

USC won its final away game of the regular season against the Utah Utes, 62-49, and clinched a first round bye in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

On paper, Utah should have posed a bigger challenge to USC but the Trojans knew this was a must win game for a squad still viewed as a tournament “bubble team.” Despite the win, shooting was an issue in this match up with USC finishing with a field goal percentage of 42% and a free throw percentage of 64%.

While the offense struggled at times, the defense thrived as the Trojans were able to prevent Utah from getting to the hoop. Stand out defensive performances came from the likes of freshman forward Vince Iwuchukwu, sophomore guard Josh Morgan, and freshman guard Tre White. Iwuchukwu and Morgan were stopping Utes left and right and combined for the most blocks on the night. It may not have all been pretty but the Trojans got the job done in Salt Lake City and USC coach Andy Enfield knows what he needs to focus on for the final two games of the regular season and the Pac-12 Tournament.

How it happened: The turning point of this game came late in the second half. Utah was trailing USC for majority of the game and in the end it came down to shooting. In the final minutes, the Utes simply could not match the Trojans in shooting. Utah’s inability in playing in the paint and shooting behind the arc was their ultimate downfall and let the Trojans break away to secure the win.

What it means: This was not USC’s best performance and Enfield certainly isn’t overjoyed but this win was needed and it’s big for the Trojans. USC is now tied with No. 7 Arizona for second place in the Pac-12 Conference and the win this grants them a bye in the first round in the Pac-12 Tournament, which will certainly benefit them when the committee is thinking of which teams to send to NCAA Tournament. This win helps to elevate their status and if USC can close out the season strong, the Trojans should have no problem securing a tournament invite.

Hits: Boogie Elis remained the star player for the Trojans. His three-game streak of scoring 20 or more points may have been broken but he still was the highest scorer with 16 points. Elis was once again a key reason USC was able to win.

Misses: Drew Peterson may have been the second leading scorer for the Trojans with 14 points but he turned the ball over four times. Peterson needs to do a better job of taking care of the ball if USC is going to have a deep run this March.

Stat of the game: If the Trojans have any hope of going far in the NCAA tournament they need to shoot better than 42% from the field and 64% from the free throw line. That was enough on Saturday against Utah but it likely won’t be enough against a Top 25 team March.

Up next: USC has a few days to prepare for their final big challenge on Thursday when they face the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats. With Arizona having an upset loss to Arizona State, USC coming off four straight wins, and having home court advantage, this game could go differently than their last encounter.

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