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Strong defensive performance leads USC to basketball win over Utah

USC's Tahj Eaddy drives to the basket past Utah's Alfonso Plummer during the second half of the Trojans' 64-46 win Saturday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

It didn’t seem like a winning recipe for success for USC on Saturday afternoon.

Starting point guard Ethan Anderson was out injured again. Star freshman Evan Mobley had just three points and no field-goal attempts. The Trojans committed 15 turnovers. And after a blistering opening eight minutes, they made just three of their final 15 attempts from three-point range.

Yet it didn’t matter. Because in a 64-46 win over Utah at Galen Center, the Trojans’ most important ingredient — their long, athletic, versatile defense — compensated for everything else.

“Our defense was outstanding, especially in the second half,” coach Andy Enfield said. “To play like we did defensively, I was very impressed, on short preparation.”

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Entering Saturday, the Utes (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) had scored 70 points in all but one of their previous games and had nearly knocked off UCLA on Thursday night. Behind leading scorers Alfonso Plummer and Timmy Allen, they were trying to hand USC a second loss in three days.

Korey Foreman, the defensive end from Corona Centennial High, announced his decision to attend USC on national television Saturday.

Instead, Utah was smothered and silenced by the Trojans (6-2, 1-1), unable to find open shots or easy looks against their switch-everything defensive looks. The Utes shot just 27.9% from the field and made only one of their last 16 attempts. They were three for 22 from three-point territory and scored only 31 points that weren’t generated by a Trojans turnover.

Plummer finished with only seven points and was three for 11 from the field. Allen had just five points and went two for 14. The Utes’ leading scorer was reserve guard Ian Martinez, who had 10 points.

“We tried to challenge every shot. We switched one through five on all ball screens, and our bigs were able to get out to the perimeter and try to challenge three-point shots,” Enfield said. “Our guards did a good job of rotating on their bigs, and then if we had to help on a smaller guard in the post, we did so. It was a team effort with a lot of energy. We communicated and had some toughness.”

Given just one day to prepare following a Thursday night loss to Colorado, the Trojans weren’t planning to trade off so much Saturday. But after the Utes scored an early layup off a ball screen, Enfield adjusted immediately.

“We were excellent defensively last year and carried it over,” said Enfield, whose team entered Saturday with the third-best opponent field-goal percentage among power conference teams. “There’s a lot of new guys that had to learn our system and play it as we expect them to. If they don’t, they just don’t play minutes. They understand that, and I thought they did a great job [today].”

Highlights from USC’s 64-46 win Saturday at Galen Center.

Early on, the Trojans coupled their dazzling defensive display with an electric start scoring the ball. They built a 22-6 lead within the opening eight minutes by making nine of their first 13 field-goal attempts and pounding Utah inside, with redshirt senior forward Isaiah White collecting seven points by the second media timeout.

But with Anderson unavailable for a fifth consecutive game because of a back injury (he remains questionable for next week, according to Enfield) and Mobley facing Utah double-teams on almost every possession (all of his season-low three points came at the free-throw line), the Trojans quickly cooled off.

On their next 15 possessions, they made just two baskets and turned the ball over nine times, allowing Utah to take a 27-26 lead after back-to-back transition layups with about three minutes left in the first half.

USC settled down, however. Redshirt senior guard Tahj Eaddy scored a game-high 18 points and added five rebounds and five assists. Junior guard Drew Peterson collected a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double. White and fellow forward Chevez Goodwin finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively. And the Trojans’ defense held the Utes to 19 points over the final 23 minutes.

“Even though we didn’t have the offense we usually have, we still found ways to score and found ways to get the win,” Goodwin said. “Our defense had to be there, regardless of what our offense was looking like.”


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