UPDATED: No. 11 Arizona falls 89-78 at Southern California
LOS ANGELES — The last time Southern California and Arizona met, the Wildcats dominated from the opening tipoff to the final buzzer. Wednesday night at the Galen Center, it was a complete role reversal, as the Trojans’ offense scorched No. 11 Arizona en route to a 89-78 victory.
USC (13-15, 8-7 Pac-12), typically one of the worst-shooting teams in the Pac-12, couldn’t miss all game long. The Trojans danced through the Wildcats’ defense with ease, hitting 61.1 percent of their shots and scoring 42 points inside the paint.
Considering Arizona (23-5, 11-5) is supposed to make its living on the defensive end, USC’s offensive efficiency left senior Solomon Hill and the rest of the Wildcats searching for answers.
“Once a guy gets going, a couple guys get going, they feel like any shot is going in,” said Hill, who led Arizona with 21 points and six assists. “We gave a couple of their guys quick open looks and once they got started it was kind of hard for us to slow them down.
“People always say they won’t hit those shots in the second half. But they kept going. We didn’t make them miss.”
After starting hot in the first half, USC somehow managed to hit 65.2 percent of its shots in the second half. All this comes after Arizona ran the Trojans out of McKale Center in a 24-point blowout last time they played in a game where the visitors made just 28.1 percent from the field.
“A collective lack of effort, lack of will, lack of us seeing of what it takes to be a good defensive team — [and] that’s what we are,” head coach Sean Miller said.
“I’m the coach, I have thick skin. It starts with me.”
The Trojans led by as many as 13 points in the second half and even with several runs by the Wildcats, USC never let up. The shots just kept falling for the home team.
After the Arizona’s last game, a 73-56 win over Washington State, Miller warned his team that a major letdown was brewing thanks to the Wildcats’ lackadaisical effort in the second half. With USC ranking in the 200’s for both points per game and shooting percentage, the concerns seemed like a stretch.
But when the final horn sounded, that’s exactly what had happened.
Players can talk all they want about giving a full defensive effort, Miller said, but actually doing it on the court is something completely different.
“You have to be extremely talented to pick and choose how hard you play, from a defensive perspective, and the effort level you give to overcome it,” he said. “We’re not.”
To overcome such hot shooting by the home side, Arizona needed almost everything else to go right. The Wildcats won the turnover battle (17 for USC, 13 for Arizona) and made free throws (23-for-30), but just couldn’t match the Trojans’ offensive output with a pedestrian 40 percent from the field.
“We gotta play better on defense,” said senior Kevin Parrom, who had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting. “We have a good offense, you can see it, but it’s a matter of playing defense the entire game.”
At the 11:48 mark of the second half, senior Mark Lyons (14 points) cut the game to 62-58 with a pair of free throws. That would be as close Arizona got, as USC answered with a 7-0 run and never looked back.
Trojans forward Eric Wise had his way with the Wildcats inside the paint, scoring a season-high 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Four other Trojans joined Wise with double-figure scoring, unexpected from a team that barely cracked 50 when it played in Tucson.
”We wanted high percentage shots,” USC’s head coach Bob Cantu said. “Every time they came back on us, we responded. Eric Wise was tremendous.”
All of it equals Arizona’s fifth loss of the season, a defeat that all but ends the Wildcats’ chances at a Pac-12 championship.