Arizona bounces back from back-to-back losses with a 81-67 win over USC
Twenty points from Rawle Alkins, plus a strong start, greater effort and improved defense gave No. 13 Arizona men’s basketball a much needed 81-67 win over USC Saturday in the McKale Center.
Coming off back-to-back losses at Washington and at home against UCLA, Arizona, now 20-6 (10-3), hold a two game lead over Washington, 17-8 (8-5) for first place in the Pac-12, while USC, 17-9 (8-5), falls to third place.
The Wildcats did not look like the team that started slow, struggled to play defense and lost its past two games, instead Arizona looked like a team that had something to prove. From diving to the floor for loose balls, to blocking shots and clenching fists in anger, the Cats' played with effort.
"We knew how important this game was," Alkins said. "We came out hard.. to have that loss against UCLA, it kind of hurt us and I think we showed up tonight."
The Wildcats got off to a strong start in the first half and took a six point lead into the break, but USC came surging back early in the second half with a 8-0 run. The game stayed close until after the 10:00 mark when Arizona began pulling away. It stayed around a 10 point game until the Wildcats broke it open in the final three minutes.
"Tonight was one of our best performances of the season," Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. "We beat a very good team. We knew this was a big challenge and what makes this sweeter than most is that it's not easy to pick yourself up off the mat, losing a home game at McKale isn't a good feeling."
Alkins led the game with 20 points, three rebounds and five assists. He struggled during Arizona's last two games, only scoring nine points through both games, but bounced back against USC is a big way.
"It's no secret that I have been struggling these last two weeks," Alkins said. "I've been putting extra work in in the gym, putting in overtime, and its paying off."
Deandre Ayton followed him with 18 points and six rebounds. Dusan Ristic also scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Allonzo Trier added 13 points, four rebounds and eight assists.
Trier and Ayton got things started early for Arizona. Trier hit the first shot, a 3-pointer from the corner, and then Ayton followed him with a mid-range jumper. Arizona’s bench also offered a lift, outscoring USC’s bench 8-7.
"Arizona played exceptionally well tonight," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "They made a lot of threes and jump shots from the mid-range area. Alkins making four threes and Trier making three threes, and then you look at the two seven-footers. They are extremely challenging to guard because they have weapons at every position. Especially at home."
A big difference in the game, was Arizona’s perimeter defense. After allowing UCLA to shoot 46 percent from deep, the Wildcats held USC to 32 percent, 6-of-19, from behind the three point line.
Another part of the winning solution for Arizona was its effort on the glass. The Wildcats pulled down 40 rebounds to USC’s 22. The biggest difference was on the defensive glass, where the Wildcats out rebounded USC 28-16 and scored 19 second chance points.
For USC, Chimezie Metu led the way with 18 points and four rebounds while Jordan McLaughlin followed with 16 points, four rebounds and five assists. Nick Rakocevic also added 12 points, however he picked up his 5th foul and fouled out with just over four minutes to go.
Overall, Arizona shot 56 percent from the floor and 46 percent from 3-point range while holding USC to 44 percent from the floor and 42 percent from deep.
Arizona moves on to play at ASU Thursday Feb. 15th in the Well Fargo Arena at 7:00 p.m.
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