Analysis: Shorthanded Runnin’ Utes fade late vs. USC on Senior Night, lose fourth-straight Pac-12 game
USC’s Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson combined for 30 points as the Trojans moved into a tie for second place in the league standings
Without starting guards Rollie Worster and Gabe Madsen, the Runnin’ Utes have to play almost perfectly to knock off some of the Pac-12’s better teams as the regular season draws to a close.
They did that in bursts and spurts here and there Saturday night against third-place USC, but couldn’t sustain the effort for a full 40 minutes — very similar to what happened two nights ago against No. 4 UCLA — and fell 62-49 to the surging Trojans in front of an announced crowd of 10,134 at the Huntsman Center.
“We might have to hold out a couple guys from practice just to get their legs back, because I think it is pretty obvious to see with a couple of those guys, that they are just shredded physically.” — Utah coach Craig Smith
The Utes (17-13, 10-9) are now tied for sixth place in the Pac-12 standings with Washington State. They will take their four-game losing streak to Colorado next Saturday searching for what ails them.
Actually, their problem is pretty apparent. They simply don’t have the depth to withstand the losses of Worster and Madsen, who are both out with ankle issues and probably won’t be back next Saturday, according to a very emotional head coach Craig Smith in the postgame news conference.
“It is where we are at. We gotta grind through it, because at the end of the day we don’t know if Worster and Madsen are coming back,” Smith said. “We just don’t know.”
Visiting USC (21-8, 13-5) moved into a tie for second place in the Pac-12 standings with Arizona after sweeping the mountain schools. The team is suddenly looking like a contender again in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas the week after next.
Every time the Utes drew reasonably close in the second half Saturday, the Trojans had an answer — usually from one of their sensational guards, Boogie Ellis or Drew Peterson.
The duo combined for 30 points on 11 of 25 shooting, while Peterson also had seven rebounds and eight assists. Ellis had 16 points and three assists.
“Credit Peterson and Boogie Ellis. They are playing at a really high level,” Smith said. “Peterson is just a tough matchup. He has given us fits here the last two years in every way. ... He is just a matchup problem.”
USC shot just 42% from the field, but considering that the Trojans were 11 of 23 (48%) from 3-point range, that was good enough. In the first half USC made eight 3-pointers, and three 2-pointers.
“It was just kind of an ugly game early on,” Smith said. “I thought our guys were trying as hard as they could, we just looked a little sluggish and a little slow.”
He felt fortunate to be down by only six — 34-28 — at halftime because the Utes weren’t shooting well at all.
Well, that never changed.
Utah finished shooting 32% and was just 5 of 22 from 3-point range. Utah looked discombobulated on offense, even more than it did Thursday night in the 78-71 loss to No. 4 UCLA.
Senior Marco Anthony, the only senior honored before the game who will certainly be moving on — the others have eligibility remaining if they want it — struggled a bit on Senior Night, going 4 of 13 from the floor.
Branden Carlson, who is in his fourth year but gets an “extra year” due to COVID-19 if he wants it, also had an off night, going 4 of 17, including 2 of 8 from deep. Carlson was a combined 8 of 31 against the Los Angeles schools.
Afterward, a tearful and emotional Smith said Carlson and Anthony are running on fumes.
“We might have to hold out a couple guys from practice just to get their legs back, because I think it is pretty obvious to see with a couple of those guys, that they are just shredded physically,” Smith said.
Still, the Utes were never really out of Saturday’s game until the last two minutes.
They trailed just 52-46 with seven minutes left when freshman Keba Keita scored inside, and the Huntsman Center crowd — the largest of the season — was trying to will the Utes to the minor upset. They got it to 55-49 when Carlson hit a triple, then went the final 5:52 without scoring.
Impossible to win that way. Utah missed its last nine shots.
“We kinda shot ourselves in the foot, especially early on,” Anthony said.
They were no better late in the game.
Case in point: The Utes had 17 offensive rebounds, but turned them into only six second-chance points.
“We cut that thing down and gave ourselves an opportunity, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Smith said. “And that’s the story of the weekend.”