Runnin’ Utes preparing for athletic Trojans in crucial conference contest

utah basketball 2 Justin Adams

Playing their final game on the road, the Runnin’ Utes will face the USC Trojans on Sunday afternoon in a pivotal Pac-12 matchup.

Utah is currently riding a three-game winning streak, its latest coming against UCLA on Thursday night. The team hopes to keep this momentum as it faces one of the top teams in the conference in the Trojans. The Utes are sitting in third in the Pac-12 standings with a 9-5 record, and USC sits right behind them in fourth with an 8-5 record.

Since narrowly escaping a comeback from the Bruins, the Utes are hoping to keep up their energy for the entire 40 minutes. Assistant coach Andy Hill thinks this game won’t be much different from the UCLA game, but USC does present its own set of problems.

“Very good and very athletic,” Hill said in an interview with ESPN 700. “Dunking, running up and down — we’ll have to get a quick turnaround and be ready to go Sunday afternoon versus the Trojans because they’ll be ready to get us.”

One thing the Utes will need to fix is how many times they get to the free throw line. Against the Bruins, they only made it to the stripe eight times. Hill wouldn’t necessarily say this was because the referees were letting the guys play it out, but instead thinks both sides played a clean game. This time around, Hill would like to see the team get to the basket early and often.

The coaching staff even had to remind Kyle Kuzma and Jakob Poeltl to attack the paint in the first half against UCLA as both struggled to get baskets in the opening minutes. However, he is proud of the way the Utes have handled road pressure this season.

“I don’t know that we were aggressive enough at times to get it to the basket,” Hill said in the interview. “We got to maybe do a little better job there and a couple of times when we did we went with tentative finishes instead of getting on them. It’s hard to win on the road and to have four of them, that’s unbelievable, that’s credit to our guys.”

Senior point guard Brandon Taylor hit a clutch three-pointer in the closing seconds against the Bruins and has been playing consistently for the past couple of weeks. While his own numbers have been improving lately, he’s not focused on his own scoring.

The Utes focus on playing together, playing as a team, and Taylor is all in on this. They have been working hard to make the extra pass whenever the opportunity is there and it’s been working for them.

“I’m not worried about my offensive play,” Taylor said in an interview with ESPN 700. “The biggest thing we’ve been stressing is assists. ‘We,’ not ‘me.’ We make ‘we’ plays, not ‘me’ plays and that’s really taking over, and that’s what’s the key element to our success.”

Aside from that, the only other thing on the team’s mind is getting another win to close out its road schedule.

“All our focus is on USC and hopefully we go in there and get a tough win,” Taylor said in the interview.

Game starts at 3 p.m. PT

k.brenneisen@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kbrenneisen