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No. 25 Trojans aim to bounce back at Utah

No. 25 USC will try to get back on track when it faces Utah in a Pac-12 Conference game Thursday at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

The Trojans (15-2, 2-2 Pac-12) suddenly find themselves on shaky ground after losing two of their last three games, including a disappointing home loss to Cal.

The Utes (11-4, 2-1) won four of their past five games. They are 8-1 at home this season.

After winning 14 in a row to start the season, USC lost twice in 10 days. The Trojans first tasted defeat on Dec. 30, taking an 84-61 loss to then-No. 21 Oregon. They rebounded with a 72-56 victory over Stanford last week, but then they fell 74-73 to Cal on Sunday.

The Trojans shot 50.9 percent from the field and made 7 of 12 from 3-point range against the Golden Bears, but they were just 10 of 21 at the free-throw line. Jordan McLaughlin, a 78.9 percent free-throw shooter, was 3 of 8 at the stripe.

"It was one of those nights at the line," McLaughlin said. "That's basically where we lost the game."

USC coach Andy Enfield struggled to come up with an explanation for his team's free-throw woes.

"When you have a guy shooting 80 percent from the line and he goes 3-for-8, you can't explain it," Enfield said.

USC will visit Utah and Colorado before returning to Los Angeles to begin a daunting three-game homestand. The Trojans will play host to No. 16 Arizona on Jan. 19, Arizona State on Jan. 22 and No. 4 UCLA on Jan. 25.

"We'll prepare for (the road trip) like we prepared this week," McLaughlin said following the loss to Cal. "We have to go win a couple games on the road. It'll be tough, but it should be fun."

McLaughlin averages 14.5 points and 5.1 assists for USC. Elijah Stewart contributes 13.9 points and 5.3 rebounds, Chimezie Metu averages 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds.

Utah is led by David Collette, who is averaging 15.4 points and six rebounds per game, and Kyle Kuzma, who produces 14.8 points and 9.4 rebounds.

Utah is coming off an 88-82 victory over Arizona State. Kuzma scored a career-high 26 points against the Sun Devils. He had 19 points in the second half.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak hurt his back late in the game against the Sun Devils. He was helped into the team's locker room, where he was evaluated by Arizona State's team doctor. Krystkowiak is expected to be back on the bench when the Utes play host to the Trojans.

Picking up a win against Utah won't be a simple task for the Trojans. The Utes have won seven straight games against USC -- most recently defeating the Trojans 80-72 in the Pac-12 Tournament last season -- and own a 21-17 lead in the all-time series.

Krystkowiak said that streak will have little significance Thursday night.

"It's a little like flipping a coin," Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake Tribune. "You do it seven straight times and it comes up heads. It has no effect whatsoever on the next outcome."

Thursday's game matches two teams with balanced offenses. Eight USC players have scored at least 13 points in a game this season, and six are averaging at least 9.5 points per game. Utah has six players averaging at least 10.6 points per game.

It has helped Utah and USC both rank high in several offensive categories in the Pac-12. The Utes are third in assists per game (15.4), and the Trojans are fourth (14.5). Utah is fourth in scoring (80.1), and USC is tied for fifth (79.9). The Utes also rank second in field-goal percentage (.502).

For its part, Utah believes having offensive balance gives it an edge against opponents who typically game-planned against a single star such as Jakob Poeltl or Delon Wright in prior seasons.

"That's good really because now you got to scout six people," Utah guard Lorenzo Bonam said. "Somebody is going to go off on you."

To thrive against teams such as USC, Utah needs that ability attack from everywhere.

"One of the things that I've heard recently in sports that kind of latched onto me is, 'Whether it's me or whether it's you, it's always we,' and I like that concept with our team," Krystkowiak said. "Sometimes, guys are going to have an opportunity to step up and make plays, and it's not like any of us have to wear that weight on our shoulders to be responsible (alone)."
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