No. 2 Arizona clinches regular-season Pac-12 title with 91-71 drubbing of USC
Arizona made a statement Tuesday night.
The 16th-ranked USC Trojans are a better basketball team than what their performance against the Wildcats suggests, but Arizona has sort of done that to everyone this season, hasn’t it? No, a 91-71 Arizona win over USC at USC had more to do with the second-ranked Wildcats.
After a stunning loss on the road to Colorado, Arizona looked like a team determined to flex some muscle, exert some will, and remind the rest of the conference that it is still the team through which the Pac-12 runs. With the win, the Wildcats secured the regular-season Pac-12 title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
They set the tone immediately. Arizona scored 1.417 points per possession in the game’s first 20 minutes, a remarkable number given the quality of the Trojan defense.
The Wildcat offense was surgical, and guard Bennedict Mathurin was the best player on the floor.
With 5:20 to play he lasered a pass from near mid-court to the left side of the rim, right into the hands of a skying Dalen Terry who flushed it home. Two and a half minutes later, he took a screen from Oumar Ballo in the right corner, drove across the face of the lane, then whipped an overhead, left-handed hook pass right by two Trojan defenders and into Ballo’s hands for a dunk.
He splashed a wing triple with 1:31 to play, then stole the ball away from USC’s Isaiah Mobley on the Trojans’ next possession, then fed Ballo with a pin-point pocket pass inside for another dunk with 49 seconds to play.
Arizona put up 51 first-half points and limited the Trojans to just 27.
Mathurin had his fingerprints all over the game but he wasn’t the only Wildcat to shine against USC’s defense. Terry had eight in the first half. Kerr Kriisa knocked down three triples. Justin Kier had nine of his 12 points in the opening frame.
Defensively, Arizona played the scouting report perfectly. It swallowed USC’s guards at the rim. Boogie Ellis, Drew Peterson, and Ethan Anderson—USC’s starting backcourt—combined to go 1-for-13 in the first half. They scored just six total points, all coming from Peterson.
USC turned it over nine times and missed seven of its eight triples.
The second half wasn’t any better, and an 11-5 opening spurt for the Wildcats ballooned the margin to 30 points.
Mathurin finished with 19 points to lead all scorers, adding six assists, five boards, and three steals. Kriisa had 18 points and four assists. Those two—the guys who dominate possession of the ball more than anyone else for the Wildcats—had only one turnover between them. Ballo and Terry each added 11, as Arizona rendered a quiet game from Azuolas Tubelis (six points, 2-5 FG) toothless.
Max Agbonkpolo led the Trojans in scoring with 14 points off the bench. A triple and then a bucket at the rim off the break midway through the first half helped spur a 7-0 USC run to draw within nine points, but USC wouldn’t hit another shot from the field for more than six minutes.
Peterson (2-11 FG) and Chevez Goodwin each scored 10, but no one found any kind of rhythm on offense. Ellis finished with nine on 3-of-11 shooting. Mobley had nine points and 11 rebounds, but was 3-for-12 from the field with four personal fouls. Anderson took just two shots, missing both.
Arizona (26-3, 16-2 Pac-12) closes out the regular season with a two-game homestand against Stanford and Cal. The Cardinal comes to town for a 6 p.m. PT tip on Thursday.
USC (25-5, 14-5 Pac-12) plays at No. 17 UCLA on Saturday at 7 p.m. PT in its final game before the conference tournament begins.