USC basketball just can't seem to come out ready to play after halftime.
"We just need to play hard for 40 minutes," Byron Wesley said somberly after the Trojans fell 79-71 to Utah Thursday night at the Galen Center.
For the third straight game and seemingly umpteenth time this year, USC struggled early in the second half. The Trojans trailed by five at halftime and cut that to two points on a Julian Jacobs 3-pointer, but they then allowed the Utah Utes to go on a 15-0 run during a 3:43 stretch.
"As a coach, you try different things, but at the same time, you have to play on both ends of the floor," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "When the other teams go on those runs, they make some shots, get their confidence and then we don't score with them."
The Utes opened the second half 9-for-11 and only missed one shot during their 15-0 run. USC, on the other hand, was 0-for-2 with a missed layup and four turnovers during the streak. (Enfield said the Trojans also missed seven layups during the first half.)
"When other teams are playing really well on offense, you have to go down and make shots on the other end. You're not going to stop them every possession," Enfield said. "You have to score at the other end so instead of a 14-2 run, maybe it's an 12-8 run."
USC clawed its way back into the game as Utah finished the game shooting 2-for-13 from the field.
But when the Utes needed a big basket, they got a huge contested 3-pointer while USC's open three-point attempts wouldn't go down.
To Andy Enfield, it was the story of the game.
Kahlil Dukes, who Enfield called the team's best shooter, missed a wide-open transition 3-pointer with an opportunity to cut the lead to six points with 6:13 remaining. Utah immediately made two free throws. The Trojans later had a chance to trim the Utes' lead to three, but Pe'Shon Howard missed a wide-open 3-pointer off a ball screen.
Instead, after a Wesley free throw cut the lead to five, Jordan Loveridge knocked down a contested 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 1:32 remaining to break the Trojans' back. Wesley had two more looks and Howard had another, but neither could get one to fall.
Byron Wesley scored a game-high 20 points, but finished 0-for-4 from deep. Kahlil Dukes, who hadn't seen the court the last five games, played a career-high 20 minutes and scored a career-best 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Nikola Jovanovic, Strahinja Gavrilovic and Howard each scored nine points.
Los Angeles native Delon Wright, who was playing in front of a large group of family and friends decked out in gray Utah shirts with "Wright" and the number "55" on the back, led Utah with 20 points while Jordan Loveridge had 19. Dakarai Tucker, who is also from Los Angeles, had 13 points as did center Dallin Bachynski.
USC basketball next plays on Sunday when it hosts Colorado for a 5 p.m. PST matchup. Utah basketball travels to UCLA where the Utes will play Saturday at 5 p.m. PST.