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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona holds off USC, stays perfect in conference play

UAs+Kadeem+Allen+attempts+a+layup+over+USC+defense+on+Thursday%2C+Jan.+19.
Simon Asher

UA’s Kadeem Allen attempts a layup over USC defense on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Los Angeles, Calif.––The Wildcats have found their groove over the past few weeks—it’s from behind the three-point line. Arizona came out firing and freshman Rawle Alkins connected on two early deep balls to give the Wildcats an early edge against USC.

No. 14 Arizona improved to 17-2 (6-0 Pac-12) with a 73-66 victory over the USC Trojans. Freshman Lauri Markkanen led the way with 23 points and eight rebounds.

The Trojans were able to find their footing after Alkins’ three-point shots and keep the Wildcats from pulling away early. They struggled shooting from the field starting the contest 4-14 from the field and 0-5 from three-point range. 

The referees were letting the two teams battle each other, and it took until the 7:31 mark of the first half for the first free throw attempts of the game. Arizona attempted no free throws in the first half. Arizona head coach Sean Miller called the Wildcats’ ability to get to the free throw line “key” in the second half.

“Overall, we were tentative against their zone,” Miller said. “In the first half, we were tentative about throwing the ball in the low post, and we didn’t offensively rebound as well as we would have liked, but that picked up in the second half [and] ultimately put us at the line.”

Arizona’s defense took advantage and held the Trojans to 26 percent (8-31) from the field in the first half. The Trojans went 1-10 from three-point land, and it allowed the Wildcats to gradually build their halftime lead.

The Wildcats opened the second half on a 7-0 run that was capped off by a Kadeem Allen three-point field goal. The quick start forced USC head coach Andy Enfield to burn an early timeout in the first two minutes of the half.

The Wildcat’s clearly looked to be more aggressive inside and get to the foul line early. At the 15:50 mark of the second half they had already gotten to the stripe four times. They would end up attempting 22 free throws in the second half.

The Trojans simply could not find consistency on offense. Their struggles carried into the second half, and turnovers became an issue. Arizona was able to stretch their lead out to as much 23 points thanks to an efficient second half from beyond the arc.

USC would go down swinging, however. After junior Dusan Ristic missed a pair of free throws with 10 minutes to go, the Trojans connected on two straight deep balls and went on a 22-8 run. They were able to get it as close as 3 points with 1:03 to go, but it would prove to be too little too late. Arizona has struggled all season closing teams out in the second half, and Miller emphasized that the issue with the comebacks has to do with effort.

“I think we need to keep playing hard the whole 20 minutes of the second half, that’s the key,” Ristic said. “Play hard until the end of the game.”

Arizona’s young core has struggled with letting opponents back in to ball games this season, but it was a freshman who helped seal the Wildcats’ victory. With under a minute to play, Markkanen found himself with the ball at the top of the key with six seconds left on the shot clock. He pulled up for a contested three-point bomb that found the bottom of the net, putting the dagger in the Trojans.

“Lauri is a terrific player,” Miller said. “He really sealed it for us with that off-balance bank shot in the closing minute. It was a great shot, and we are lucky it went in for us.”

Next up for the Wildcats is a matchup with the UCLA Bruins. They head to Pauley Pavilion on Saturday for a 1 p.m. MST tip-off with the Bruins. The game will be aired on CBS.


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