Arizona bounces back, shuts down USC

The SportsXchange

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Sixth-ranked Arizona didn't let one loss become two.

The Wildcats, coming off an 84-73 loss to UCLA on Thursday night, began hot and made quick work of USC on Saturday, winning 74-50 at McKale Center.

"It's not very easy at all to leave a disappointing loss like we had against UCLA with the incredible crowd we had and the momentum we had going into that game," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "Sometimes a game like that can lead into the next game, especially in today's world when you have so many outside forces pulling a team apart. Our team stuck together."

The Wildcats (17-2, 5-2) held USC to 28.1 percent shooting and never trailed, pushing a 19-point halftime lead to 31 points midway through the second half and coasting from there.

"Their defense was exceptional," said USC interim coach Bob Cantu, whose team was averaging 72.4 points and shooting 46.4 percent through seven conference games.

"I mean, they were very physical and very aggressive. We weren't able to get what we did against other teams. They denied us the high post, and we couldn't get into our offense. They did a good job of getting back on defense, too. They had a tremendous focus."

Sophomore guard Nick Johnson led Arizona with 14 points, including a soaring reverse dunk with 8:11 left that brought the announced crowd of 14,578 to its feet. Senior forward Solomon Hill had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Starting freshman post players Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski combined for 21 points and 14 boards.

USC (8-13, 3-5) dropped to 1-3 under Cantu. The Trojans, who were 2-for-19 from the field at one point in the first half, finished 18-for-64, boosting their shooting percentage late in the game by making five baskets in the final 2:26 against a group of mostly walk-ons.

"After the UCLA game, we wanted to come out and really attack them on defense," Tarczewski said. "We had a rough start (against UCLA), and Coach really stressed that in the locker room before the game. That start tonight really helped us carry momentum through the entire game."

The three previous games under Cantu were decided by a total of eight points, but the cold-shooting Trojans were never in Saturday's game, losing for the fifth consecutive time in Tucson. No USC player scored in double figures, as point guard Jio Fontan led the way with nine points. He was just 2-for-9 from the field and turned the ball over four times while registering just one assist.

USC's previous season low for points was 51 at Nebraska on Dec. 3.

"I liked the way the group at the end played really hard," Cantu said. "We kept fighting at the end and we kept attacking, stuff like that."

The Wildcats forced four turnovers in the first three minutes and led 6-0 when Cantu called his first timeout with 16:58 to play. Arizona never let up, building a 29-7 lead with 7:55 to go in the half. Eric Wise ended Arizona's 11-0 run with a basket, but much of the damage had had been done.

Miller saw the game as a return to the kind of defense that fueled a 12-0 nonconference record that included wins over Florida, Miami and San Diego State. He called his team's defense against USC as good as it has been all season.

"The one thing about USC if you followed them recently is that they've scored," he said. "We were ready to defend USC. For us, it starts with that consistent, tough-minded defense."

NOTES: Cantu has a 0-2 record against Arizona. He had filled in for a suspended O'Neill for one game in the 2011 Pac-10 tournament, losing 67-62 to the Wildcats. ... Arizona and USC have played 101 times, with the Cats holding a 61-40 edge. ... USC center James Blasczyk picked up a technical foul with 10:53 to go for a push on Ashley. ... Arizona freshman guard Gabe York, who had not played in six previous conference games, entered with 8:11 to go and never left the game. York went 2-for-5 on 3-point attempts and finished with seven points.
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