LOS ANGELES (AP)—Nick Young and the Southern California Trojans have been giving grief to the Pac-10’s top teams while turning themselves into surprising conference contenders.
Young had 30 points and eight rebounds and Southern California beat No. 11 Arizona 80-73 on Thursday night, handing the Wildcats their second consecutive loss and third in four games.
“We’re the underdog team and we’re learning how to play together,” Young said. “We’re just trying to get respect out there.”
Arizona lost to Washington State last week to snap a 12-game winning streak, and lost to then-No. 15 Oregon on Sunday.
The Trojans (14-5, 4-2 Pac-10) came back from a one-point, last-second loss on Saturday to then-No. 4 UCLA to beat their fourth ranked opponent of the season.
“We knew we had to get this one,” Young said. “We were all nervous from the UCLA game and we knew we had to bounce back. That’s what good teams do is bounce back off bad losses.”
USC has made a specialty of knocking off ranked teams, giving No. 16 Oregon its first loss of the season on Jan. 4, and beating No. 14 Washington on Dec. 28 and No. 8 Wichita State on Dec. 23. Young was the Trojans’ leading scorer in all three of those games.
Those victories weren’t as resounding as Thursday’s win, with the Trojans taking the lead with a strong run to end the first half and giving up the lead just once in the second half.
USC has beaten Arizona (13-4, 4-3) in seven of 11 meetings in Los Angeles, six of those at their former home at the Sports Arena. Thursday was Arizona’s first appearance at USC’s new Galen Center.
Young went 13-for-19 from the field, throwing fakes, tossing up fallaways and yanking down rebounds at key moments throughout the game.
And he played with a swagger that defined a team that clearly believes it can beat anyone in the country.
“It takes mental and physical fitness to play this game and he’s got that,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said of Young.
“I just thought he played terrific,” USC coach Tim Floyd said. “When you’re a program trying to build credibility, anytime you can beat Arizona it’s big.”
Lodrick Stewart had 18 points and Gabe Pruitt scored 16 for the Trojans.
Mustafa Shakur and Marcus Williams led Arizona with 19 points apiece. Both had eight rebounds. Ivan Radenovic added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Trailing by two, USC went on a 15-3 run early in the second half to take a lead it wouldn’t give up. Young scored six points during the run, including a dunk that made it 54-44 with 10:50 remaining.
Arizona crept back, pulling within two after a three-point play from Radenovic, but a 3-pointer from Keith Wilkinson and Young’s jumper gave USC a 71-64 lead with 3:20 to go.
Young then got a goaltending call on a bad miss to put the Trojans up 73-67, and made two free throws in the final minute to put USC up 75-69.
“They’ve got a lot of guys that could go to the NBA,” Young said, “so we’re just happy we contained them down the stretch,”
USC’s Taj Gibson missed three of four free throws in the final minute that kept the crowd nervous, but Gabe Pruitt made a pair with 16 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Trojans.
The Trojans held an Arizona team averaging 51.2 percent from the field to just 38.3 percent. USC shot 53.3 percent. The Trojans came in leading the Pac-10 in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to just 35.2 percent. They have held 15 of 19 opponents under 40 percent.
The suddenly sputtering Wildcats now have to face No. 3 UCLA across town on Saturday.
“We’re certainly capable of beating UCLA,” Olson said. “I know that we’re capable but we just have to find some way to turn our heads back up.”
Chase Budinger’s 3-pointer and two free throws from Jawann McClellan gave Arizona a 14-6 lead to open the game. Budinger finished with 14 points.
USC responded with a 12-4 run that featured two 3-pointers from Stewart and a jumper and a dunk from Gibson to tie it at 18. Stewart went 3-for-5 from behind the arc and scored 11 points in the first half.
The Trojans took their first lead 29-28 on Pruitt’s 3 with 3:15 to play in the half, and Young hit a fallaway tip-in at the buzzer to put the Trojans up 33-29 at halftime.