USC is blown out by No. 11 Utah, 67-39

USC struggles in 67-39 loss to 11th-ranked Utah

It was only halftime Sunday, and USC Coach Andy Enfield was striding back and forth across a hallway in the Galen Center, shoulders sagging. Nothing had gone right for the Trojans in the first half against Utah, or really at all in the first half of the Pac-12 season.

The 11th-ranked Utes led, 32-12, at the half. The Trojans shot 19.2% in the period. They had missed all seven three-point attempts.

When the game resumed, the public-address system played lyrics from an LL Cool J song: "Don't call it a comeback." No one was tempted to. Utah scored the first six points of the second half and cruised to a 67-39 victory.

"Whatever I said in the pregame speech didn't work," Enfield said.

Utah, which is first in the nation in 20-or-more-point wins, added an 11th. Its average margin of victory in conference play is 24 points. Meanwhile, USC (9-12, 1-8 in the Pac-12), remains in last place in the conference.

After the game, Enfield didn't make any players available but instead spoke for nearly 20 minutes and talked at length about the state of the program. He expressed optimism, though he is now 20-33 in about a season and a half at USC. He showed frustration at his inability to coach the Trojans to wins in close games against Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado.

And he maintained that his plan for the USC program remains unchanged.

"We have never wavered once as a coaching staff," Enfield said. "We are so excited for this group. We are so optimistic that we're going to be an excellent basketball team in the Pac-12."

He added: "We would like this process to be sped up, quicker. But at the same time we still have an enthusiastic vision for the future."

On Thursday, the Trojans took Colorado into triple overtime in a loss, and afterward, Enfield said, the team was exhausted. Several players received IVs to rehydrate. Enfield canceled practice Friday to give the team extra rest and had a short session Saturday.

There was still fatigue, but Enfield said the practice was spirited. Then came the first half Sunday, which, Enfield said, "was one of those halves of basketball that I really honestly can't tell you why."

"I was surprised myself as a coach because we've been improving dramatically as a team the last month of the season," Enfield said.

Against the Buffaloes, the Trojans couldn't corral Askia Booker, who scored 43 points. Against Utah (17-4, 7-2) the problem was — everyone. Eleven Utah players scored points. Jordan Loveridge scored 10, Delon Wright scored 11, and Jakob Poeltl led all scorers with 14 points.

There were few bright spots offensively for USC. The team shot 26.5% overall. Only one player, Malik Martin, who had 11 points, scored in double digits. Enfield pulled his starters for most of the second half.

"It's not easy," he said. "And that's what we're trying to tell our players. Success does not come easy."

Most troubling, freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin's struggles continued. He made none of his seven shots and had no assists. He is now five for his last 31 from the field.

At the end of his postgame news conference, Enfield made clear that his frustrations were with his own ability to pull out close wins. He said he remains optimistic because of the team's young talent. He spoke of a promising recruiting class. And he said he was confident McLaughlin would break out of his slump soon.

"We can't expect him to be a perfect player," Enfield said. "We have to give him coaching and guidance. And believe me, you'll see Jordan McLaughlin be a terrific basketball player in the Pac-12 here very soon."

For now, though, the wins haven't come. USC's average home attendance this season has been the lowest since the Galen Center opened, and Sunday's game, before the Super Bowl, drew an especially light crowd. The announced attendance was 2,835, the lowest figure for the Trojans during Pac-12 play.

"We have a plan, and we're sticking to it, and I can't be more excited about our young players," Enfield said. "But it sure is frustrating."

USC NEXT

USC at California, Thursday, 8 p.m. at Haas Pavilion, Berkeley. TV: Fox Sports 1 — Finally a welcome sight for the Trojans: USC's only Pac-12 win came against the Bears.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
62°