Arizona men's basketball falls to USC, ending season with more questions than answers
Brandon Williams (2) tries to dunk the ball in the hoop but is blocked by USC''s defense.The Wildcats lost to the Trojans 78-65.
LAS VEGAS — The Arizona men’s basketball team's turbulent season came to a close Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas, losing 78-65 to USC to finish the season 17-15. The Wildcats now head into the offseason with more questions than answers, with the grey cloud surrounding Sean Miller’s future and the program sure to lurk into the summer.
Arizona was only able to compete for about 25 minutes, perhaps a perfect microcosm of the Wildcats’ season. USC benefited from the struggles of the Arizona offense that shot just 5-22 from 3, using a 19-3 run to open up a 61-45 lead with 11:22 remaining and never looking back.
“I've never questioned the togetherness of this group,” Miller said. “I've never questioned the effort. Sometimes you try to get them to play as hard as they possibly can, because we don't have that room for error, if we don't. But we ended about where I thought we would; 17 and 15, you're hoping maybe for a couple more. And if we were healthier, maybe that would have came.”
The Wildcats had no answer for USC forward Bennie Boatwright. The senior had 22 points and 11 rebounds, causing problems for whichever Wildcat attempted to guard him.
“For myself, we're seniors, and we wanted to make sure the guys came out and played as hard as they can,” Boatwright said postgame. “This is our last go-around, and we want to go as far as we can. They made shots, but we kept playing hard throughout the game.”
Arizona got out to a quick 8-2 start, thanks to back-to-back 3s by Justin Coleman and Brandon Williams, but made just two of its next 11 shots during a cold stretch that saw USC go on an 18-4 run to open up a 23-14 lead with 10:47 left in the first half. The Wildcats went with a different lineup to open the game, bringing Chase Jeter and leading scorer Brandon Randolph off the bench in an attempt to shake things up. Neither was particularly effective, however, with Jeter finishing 2-9 with six points, while Randolph finished 1-6 with two points.
The Wildcats trailed by 10 at the 4:37 mark before rattling off six-straight made baskets to take a brief 40-38 lead and bring the fans who traveled to Las Vegas to their feet. USC point guard Derryck Thornton hit a jumper with five seconds left to even the teams up at halftime, with the redshirt sophomore going a perfect 5-5, earning 10 points in the first half.
Arizona was only able to score 25 points after halftime, shooting 14 percent from 3 and 32 percent overall while allowing USC to shoot 50 percent from the floor to put things away.
“I give USC a lot of credit,” Williams said. “They have great talent, they're coached very well, but at the end of the day, they played hard. They're a more physical team, and we've just got to be ready next time.”
Arizona now goes into the offseason having to answer for the future. While the Wildcats currently have the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the country, the future of Miller and players such as Randolph are up in the air, and players such as Josh Green and Nico Mannion coming in potentially means less touches for returning players.
Miller was asked postgame if he felt like this could be his last game at Arizona or if he had discussions with administration about his future. He declined to comment on both.
“I’m not really worried about that right now,” Randolph said about what the future holds for the program. “I’m worried about continuing to develop.”
If Miller is back, and the recruiting class stays intact, Arizona should be a consensus top-25 team nationally next season, returning most of their production from this past season with potentially a graduate transfer as well.
“Our better days are ahead of us,” Jeter said. “We’re gonna have the tools to make sure we’re in a good spot for next season and turn this year around.”
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