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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona WBB advances to Pac-12 Tournament Quarterfinals to face USC

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Danielle Main
Skylar Jones going in for the shot during the USC game Feb. 29 in Mckale Center. Jones had 19 points.

The No. 7 seed Arizona women’s basketball team is set to meet No. 2 seed USC in the Pac-12 Tournament Quarterfinals on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. in MGM Grand Garden Arena. Arizona (17-14, 8-10 in Pac-12) advanced to the quarterfinals by defeating the University of Washington 58-50 in the tournament’s first round on Wednesday, March 6.

The Wildcats are now preparing to face USC (23-5, 13-5 in Pac-12), which concluded its season with back-to-back victories, one of which was against Arizona. The Trojans finished the regular season as one of the top teams in both the Pac-12 and the nation. Four of their five losses were against ranked opponents and this season, they faced nine ranked opponents, finishing 5-4 against them. The Trojans enter this game without playing since March 2, when they comfortably beat the Sun Devils 70-55.

Another notable fact to pay attention to in this game will be the rest-versus-rust scenario. Arizona also played a game on March 2, but having recently faced the Huskies, they should, in theory, be slightly more at loose and prepared for this pending game. Despite this fact it remains abundantly clear that the talent edge favors the Trojans as both teams seek to push past the other and move onto the next round of the tournament.

History vs. USC

Arizona meets USC for the 88th time in the upcoming matchup that will determine which of these programs will make it to the semi-finals of the Pac-12 Tournament. Currently, USC has the overwhelming edge at 58-29 all-time, despite Arizona being 7-3 in the last 10 matchups. This calendar year, USC is 2-0 against Arizona. The Wildcats last faced off against the Trojans on Feb. 29 at home, a place they have played their best basketball this season, yet they still came up short, losing in double-overtime 95-93. The meeting prior to that took place on Feb. 12, and it was all USC, winning that contest 81-64

With the upcoming game played in a neutral environment, it appears the edge is in USC’s favor given the recent history. However if this season has shown people anything about this Arizona team is that it plays its best basketball when the odds are against them. Simply look at the Wildcats last seven games where they went 5-2 to get to the point where they are now.

USC’s season

USC’s impressive season has been marked by several milestones, including its highest-ever seeding at No. 2 for the Pac-12 Tournament. With a record of 23 regular-season victories, USC has achieved its most wins since the 1993- 1994 season. Notably, its 13-5 record in Pac-12 play represents the most conference wins in a season since 1996- 1997. The Trojans also set a program record with six straight conference road wins and showcased their dominance with three victories over top-10 opponents in a single season, a feat not accomplished since 1985- 1986. Additionally, their seven-game win streak in conference play marked the longest since the 2004- 2005 season.

The two players to watch out for on USC are freshman guard JuJu Watkins and junior forward Rayah Marshall. Watkins leads the Trojans in scoring at 27.8 points per game, ranking second-best in women’s college basketball. She also leads the team in assists and steals, averaging 3.4 and 2.6 per game, respectively. On the other hand, Marshall leads USC in both rebounding and steals at 10.1 and 2.1 per game, respectively, while also being the team’s third-leading scorer at 10.2 ppg. Watkins’ standout performances this season include a record-setting 51-point game against Stanford University, establishing a USC record for the most points by any DI player in the nation this season. She also scored 42 points against the University of Colorado, Boulder on Feb. 23, the highest by any USC basketball player (male or female) in Galen Center.

This dynamic duo has been nothing short of extraordinary this season, easily one of the most explosive guard/forward combinations in all of women’s college basketball. In all respects, whether looking at their individual stats or team success, it is evident. Heading into this upcoming game it’s to be expected these two players will be at the top of their game when they face Arizona, as they look to lead USC into the semi-finals of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Wildcats to watch 

Heading into this game, the first player to watch remains fifth-year guard Helena Pueyo, who continues to fulfill any and every role needed to help put Arizona in a position to be successful. The latest example of this was showcased in Arizona’s first-round matchup against Washington. Pueyo stuffed the stat sheet, scoring 14 points and adding five assists, five steals, four blocks and three rebounds. Although Pueyo is not regarded as a multi-level scorer, she possesses the capability to score anywhere on the floor when necessary. However, the more important aspect of her game is her versatility; she does a little bit of everything on the court. Even when her shots aren’t falling, she impacts the game in numerous ways — an ability not shared by many players. Thanks to her experience and natural talent, this style of play has become second nature to her, ensuring she can contribute in some way in almost every game. Especially in the biggest games like these, she always seems to be at her best, giving Arizona its best chance to come out victorious.

The second player to watch out for is also another familiar face, fifth-year forward Esmery Martinez, who had herself a game against Washington, scoring 14 points and notching four assists, four rebounds and one steal. Martinez has also been able to impact the game in a variety of ways beyond simply putting the ball through the hoop. With the current team as it is, it’s likely that Martinez will remain the Wildcats’ leading scorer moving forward. However, thanks to her unique playstyle, being able to affect the game on both sides of the floor will not be a problem for her, as she already leads the team in rebounds and is second in steals at 6.3 and 1.8 per game, respectively.

These two players, Pueyo and Martinez, are going to be at the forefront of Arizona’s hopes of continuing to progress in the tournament. With their combined experience and well-rounded playstyles, they form the perfect duo to fill any holes this team may appear to have on the surface. They will need to remain at the top of their games as they prepare to face off against a USC team they were unable to defeat in the regular season.


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