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Up-tempo USC catches No. 11 Arizona off guard

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- Arizona has spent almost all of the season in and around the top 10 in the polls, but the Wildcats are showing signs of weakness as they head into March.

No. 11 Arizona turned in what coach Sean Miller called its worst defensive effort of the season in an 89-78 loss to a rejuvenated USC team at Galen Center on Wednesday night. The Trojans, often attacking the basket off the dribble, shot 61.1 percent (33 of 54).

"A lot had to do with USC -- I'll give them credit -- but a lot had to do with us breaking down," Miller said. "We were undisciplined, going for shot fakes, not being in the right positions. ... Just a complete breakdown. Many times when you can't guard on the perimeter, you have to help. And as you help, it leads to a lot of bad things. Our perimeter defense was poor at best. We had no ability to defend at any of three positions."

Trojans senior Eric Wise, a burly and agile 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward, was a particularly tough matchup, often working to the basket to score a season-high 22 points. Wise, in his only season of eligibility at USC after transferring from UC Irvine, made 9 of 12 shots.

The Trojans (13-15, 8-7 Pac-12) improved to 6-5 under interim coach Bob Cantu, who took over for fired Kevin O'Neill. Cantu has USC playing at a faster pace, and the Trojans put five players in double figures Wednesday night.

USC didn't have a single player in double figures when it lost 74-50 in Tucson on Jan. 26.

"When you find out, let me know," Wise said, asked to explain the turnaround in the performances. "It doesn't make any sense."

Byron Wesley had 18 points and J.T. Terrell added 14 for USC. Point guard Jio Fontan had 12 points and nine assists, and Aaron Fuller also scored 12.

USC, which was coming off a 75-59 home loss to UCLA, has won five of seven games.

"For us to be able to come back and rebound this way is tremendous," Cantu said. "Tonight was our night."

Arizona (23-5, 11-5)lost to a team with a losing record for the first time this season and fell out of a first-place tie in the conference with Oregon.

Solomon Hill led Arizona with 21 points. Kevin Parrom had 16, and point guard Mark Lyons scored 14 despite a 1-of-9 shooting night. He was 12 of 16 from the free-throw line.

USC led 42-36 at halftime and came out of the locker room on a 9-2 run to take a 13-point edge with 18:05 to play. Arizona twice trimmed the lead to four points, the last time at 62-58 with 11:20 to go. But the Trojans answered with a 7-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Terrell.

Miller, who plays man-to-man defense almost exclusively, switched to a 2-3 zone with about eight minutes left in an effort to slow the Trojans down. But Wise busted the zone with a couple of shots in the lane, helping the Trojans protect their lead.

"Every time they came back at us, we responded with a basket," Cantu said. "I thought E. Wise was tremendous."

USC made all 12 of its free-throw attempts in the final four minutes.

The Trojans also made 6 of 10 3-point shots.

Arizona allowed more points than it has in a regulation game since a 95-71 loss at Cal on Feb. 25, 2010. The Wildcats, in their five losses this season, have yielded 52.9 percent shooting.

"Getting our defense back as we turn the calendar to March is pivotal for us," Miller said. "When you practice 80-some times, do all the different things we've done, and you establish yourself as a quality defensive team, it's a shame when it leaves you at the moment you need it the most. But that's what has happened to us right now."

NOTES: USC junior forward Ari Stewart missed his fourth consecutive game because of a fractured left thumb. He might be able to return next week when the Trojans finish the season with a trip to the Washington schools. ... Miller is 1-3 against USC in Los Angeles. ... Arizona plays at 6 p.m. Saturday at UCLA, which ESPN will telecast. The ESPN GameDay crew will be on hand.
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