LOS ANGELES - The Wildcats meandered into the Galen Center on Thursday night looking like they were still stuck in traffic. Arizona went through the motions to start a game and paid for it once again, as USC took advantage of the Wildcats' inability to break down a zone. The Trojans jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first 10 minutes of the game, and a share of the credit should go to Sean Miller’s team and their inability to string together multiple positive offensive possessions. This problem ultimately led the ‘Cats to score just 19 points in 20 minutes, trailing USC by 17 points as they walked into the visiting locker room at halftime.
28 rebounds vs. 17 rebounds
An area that Arizona has struggled in has been the front court. It isn’t a secret, and the sudden loss of Emmanuel Akot to transfer further exposed the gaping hole in Sean Miller's roster. USC took full advantage of the lack of depth down low, dominating the Wildcats on the boards all night, but especially in the first half, when the Trojans established their lead for good.
The Wildcats got away with their lack of height against Oregon State due to the abundance of 3s they knocked down at home. This time, the shooting wasn’t there, and neither was the presence inside, limiting second chances and allowing USC to get out on the break and take advantage of the superior athletes it posses in the likes of Bennie Boatwright and Kevin Porter Jr.
Arizona has gone stretches of this season relying on the shooting and slashing of Brandon Randolph and the lock-down defending and occasional long range shooting of Dylan Smith. That was not the case Thursday night in Galen Center, as the two usual pillars of this Wildcat team combined to score exactly zero points in the first half, ultimately stunting the production and flow of the Wildcat offense.
“Confidence is earned through hard work and performance,” said Miller. “You can give certain guys confidence, but at the end of the day, it has to come from within, and there has to be a belief in themselves. Confidence can be like a fever. It’s there and then you’ve lost it, then you’ve gotten the confidence fever again, and then you’ve lost it.”
27 points and 12 rebounds
Nick Rakocevic dominated the visiting Wildcats from the opening tip on Thursday, and it didn’t matter who Miller threw at him. Ryan Luther tried, Ira Lee gave an effort, and Dylan Smith, who was filling in at the power forward position, wasn’t any better. The veteran post made easy work of the Wildcats, establishing the intensity at which USC played at all evening.
Arizona had no answer for Rakocevic, and if the Wildcats want to do anything at the Pac-12 tournament, not to mention the NCAA tournament, they are going to have to learn how to cope with skillful and tough, big men.
5 for 25
Arizona’s nightmare performance was summed up no better than by its three-point percentage. Shooting just 20 percent behind the line isn’t going to cut it at any level, and the Wildcats were unable to cut into the Trojans' double-digit lead with their long ball. The cold streak forced Arizona to look for awkward shots late in the shot clock, often resulting in drives with forced layups really done to try to bait the referee into blowing his whistle.
All around, this was a poor performance by the Wildcats, and if they want to compete with UCLA on Saturday, things are going to have to turn around.
“We couldn’t find a rhythm on offense,” sophomore Ira Lee said. “There was stretches where we were playing great defense, but we couldn’t score the ball. We’ve had a couple nights like that, but we are gonna try and make this our last, and we’ll do better next time.”
The Wildcats take on UCLA in Westwood next on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
Follow David Skinner on Twitter