As much as USC basketball fans may hate to hear it, the team is showing signs of progress despite a four-game losing streak. The problem, however, is that those signs aren't translating into wins...yet.
After falling to both Oregon schools last week on the road by a combined margin of 12 points, the USC Trojans (9-10, 1-6 Pac-12) return home to host the Colorado Buffaloes (10-9, 3-4) and No. 11 Utah Utes (16-3, 6-1) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. PST and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. PST. These will be the second meetings between USC and the mountain schools.
The road trip to Boulder and Salt Lake City did not go well for the Trojans, as they fell by a combined margin of 45 points. Out of the last 10 halves of basketball, USC has won four of them and lost by two in two others.
The Buffaloes are coming off a big 90-58 victory over Washington State, but prior to that they had lost four straight and hadn't won since defeating USC, 86-65, back on January 4.
Three factors are working against them in this game. Their second leading scorer and rebounder, Josh Scott, remains out and did not make the trip. Xavier Johnson, who had 17 points against USC in the first meeting, is day-to-day with a high ankle sprain. Finally, the Buffs are 0-6 on the road.
USC out-rebounded Colorado 35-33 in the first meeting with Johnson on the floor and had 16 offensive rebounds. The Trojans are thin up front, but must take advantage if both Scott and Johnson are out. Look for them to feed Nikola Jovanovic the ball early in the post.
The good news for Colorado? They have won six consecutive games against USC and Askia Booker absolutely kills the Trojans. To be fair, Booker is killing a lot of teams this season with his team-leading 16.3 PPG and is shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range. In his last three contests against USC, Booker is averaging 19 PPG. Colorado has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons under head coach Tad Boyle.
Coming into the season, many predicted that this would be Utah's breakthrough campaign. So far, the pundits are absolutely right. If anything, the Utes have exceeded expectations with their 16-3 record up to this point. Their only blemish in conference play came in Tucson at the hands of No. 6 Arizona, 69-51.
Aside from that, their average margin of victory in their six Pac-12 wins is an astounding 23.5 points. Senior point guard Delon Wright leads the way with 14.6 PPG, but struggles shooting from long range (31.6 percent). He scored 11 points and dished out 10 assists in the first meeting, as Utah cruised 79-55.
Jordan Loveridge, an athletic forward who is a tough cover, led the Utes with 14 points and hit three of his five three-point attempts. Utah was a putrid 10-of-20 from the free throw line, but USC was just 2-of-5 and were 3-of-13 from deep. Utah sunk 11 out of its 19 three-point attempts (57.9 percent).
The Utes are coming off home victories over Washington State (86-64) and Washington (77-56). Utah is 2-2 on the road this season. Its only three losses all year have come against San Diego State (No. 16 at the time), No. 9 Kansas and No. 6 Arizona.