The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team bounced back after a tough loss to UCLA to beat No. 17 USC Trojans 81-72 on the road Saturday, Feb. 20, in the Galen Center.
The true identity of a team is always shown by how they react after a tough loss. Against the Trojans, the Wildcats showed everyone that they are a team with heart.
Not only was this game huge for team morale, but it was a historic night for head coach Sean Miller as it was his 300th career win. He accomplished this feat in fewer games than the legendary Lute Olsen and John Wooden.
As usual, James Akinjo led the way for the Wildcats, scoring a team-high 20 points. Jordan Brown also contributed 19 points and Azuolas Tubelis put up 16 points.
The Wildcats held a steady lead throughout most of the game as it seemed like every player was contributing offensively. The Wildcats shot 42% from the field, 47% from three and 83% from the free-throw line, all of which were better than the Trojans.
However, this game was really won with passing and rebounding. The Wildcats killed it on the boards, snagging 58 total rebounds to the Trojans’ 48. This came behind the outstanding play of forwards Tubelis, who had 15 rebounds, and Brown, who had 13. The Wildcats also had 20 assists to the Trojans’ 13 led by Akinjo with seven assists and Kerr Kriisa with four.
Rebounding was likely a major emphasis for Wildcats going into the game. This was because USC’s Evan and Isaiah Mobley both rank top five for rebounding in the Pac-12. The Mobley brothers both averaged over seven rebounds per game going into Saturday. The Wildcats held them both under their averages, especially Evan who is considered one of the best big men in the nation.
Two other players that played a major role in the Wildcats’ victory were freshmen Kriisa and Dalen Terry, especially with the subpar play of freshman Bennedict Mathurin. Even though their stats were not outstanding, their impact was felt by the opposing team.
Kriisa had nine points and four assists as he showed off his high basketball IQ on the court. He was making smart decisions and controlling the pace of the game when the ball was in his hands. He also continued to do what head coach Sean Miller continues to praise him for, which is his ability to draw a charge.
Not many players enjoy sacrificing their bodies to draw charges, especially smaller guys such as Kriisa. This just goes to show how much heart he has and how he is willing to do anything for his team.
Terry also showed his ability to make good decisions with the ball in his hand. He had eight points on only two made shots. He played very efficiently, making two huge threes in the second half to halt the Trojans' attempt at a comeback.
With only two games left in the season, the Wildcats are looking to end on a good note as they host the Washington schools for the final two games of the season.
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