No. 7 Arizona stays unbeaten at home with 72-63 win over No. 19 USC
When the ball isn’t whizzing around the court and the pace isn’t where they want it and the game gets mucked up, Arizona can win there, too. That much was proven this week.
The Wildcats ground out a win over No. 3 UCLA on Thursday, and then followed it up Saturday afternoon with a similar kind of win against the 19th-ranked USC Trojans. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, but Arizona pulled out a 72-63 win over the Trojans to move to 19-2 on the season and 9-1 in conference play.
Before the road loss to Tennessee, Arizona won nine of its first 11 games by at least 18 points. A breakneck pace and an uncompromising commitment to moving the ball gave Arizona one of the most potent offenses in basketball. But then came the four-point loss to Tennessee, where the young kids ran into a team with loads of experience. A month later came its next chance to prove legitimacy as a threat to run the table, but the moment seemed just a little too big and the Cats lost to UCLA on the road by 16.
In beating UCLA Thursday and following up that emotional win with the kind of performance it put forth Saturday, the Cats showed something special: this group has learned how to win it tight, win it close, and win it ugly. Arizona is legit.
After a 10-0 run from USC took the Trojans from down four to up six with 6:29 to play, Arizona was up against the wall again.
They closed the final 6:29 with an 18-3 run. USC guard Boogie Ellis got a fastbreak layup to fall and quell a 10-0 run, but a Chevez Goodwin free throw was the only other point the Trojans scored. Arizona forced misses on 14 of the Trojans’ final 15 shot attempts.
USC got open looks from 3 down the stretch for its best shooter, Drew Peterson, but those clanged off the rim. Where Arizona looked to shut the Trojans down, it was highly effective. Nothing was easy inside. Oumar Bello and Christian Koloko were towers at the rim. Azuolas Tubelis met Ellis at the summit late in the second half and turned him away in emphatic fashion.
As a team, the Wildcats blocked six USC shots, allowed only 13 free throw attempts—USC made eight, a continued problem for the Trojans—won the rebounding battle, and dominated the paint 42-28.
USC shot just 34% for the game. Ellis was 3-for-12 from the field and 2-for-7 from beyond the arc. Peterson was 1-for-13 and 0-for-6 from 3. Without any kind of perimeter shooting threat, USC’s offense was bogged down by UA’s size inside. Forwards Isaiah Mobley (15 points on 16 shots) and Chevez Goodwin (eight on eight) drew a crowd whenever they touched it close to the basket.
The Trojans fought well. They made Arizona work for everything. They just couldn’t find the touch on some late shots. No shame in that.
A nine-point margin felt much more like a three-point game. They only committed eight turnovers and assisted on 18 of their 24 made shots. This was a dogfight. When Arizona tried to create separation, USC was there with an answer to keep things tight.
It was a two-point game after 10 minutes, a one-point game at the halftime break, and a three-point game after 30 minutes. The quintessential March atmosphere.
Arizona’s crowd was excellent. That no doubt helped. The Wildcats are now 13-0 at home this season and winners of 15 straight at McKale.
As they did on Thursday, the Cats made timely plays. Tubelis finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Kerr Kriisa went 3-of-5 from 3-point range to put up 13 points. Koloko had 10 points and seven boards. Everyone who played scored.
Surely Arizona is bound to re-enter the AP top five. They answered every question this week. Up next is a trip to Tempe to battle the Sun Devils. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT on Monday.
The Trojans (19-4, 9-4 Pac-12) will look to rebound against the Pacific Tigers on Tuesday in what will serve as a makeup game for the trip to Oklahoma State in December that had to be canceled.