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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona basketball must overcome USC talent, Tarczewski to step up

Tyler Besh /  Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tyler Besh
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

When the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats face USC tonight in the first game in a Southern California road swing, don’t expect to see the same Trojans squad that Arizona obliterated a month ago.

On Jan. 26, the Wildcats defeated USC 74-50 in what might be Arizona’s lone true blowout of the conference season.

But USC was only in its fourth game with a new coach and was coming off an overtime loss to ASU.

Sure, the Trojans are 12-15 overall and 7-7 in the Pac-12, but the record doesn’t tell the whole story.

Now, with more games under interim head coach Bob Cantu’s belt, the Trojans have played much better, winning four of six games since the Arizona loss.

“They’ve done a great job, really, when they left our game,” head coach Sean Miller said. “They’ve played their best basketball they’ve played all season long.”

Outside of the Arizona loss and a 75-59 loss to UCLA on Sunday, the Trojans have lost five Pac-12 games by an average of 5.8 points per game.

Although USC might not be in the conference race, in tonight’s game, it can play the role of spoiler for Arizona.

The Wildcats are locked in a tie with Oregon at the top of the Pac-12, so a California sweep of USC and UCLA would do wonders for their conference title chances.

Oregon has the tiebreaker, having won the season series with Arizona, so a loss from the Ducks to Oregon State on Thursday would certainly help Arizona’s cause.

The Southern California road trip hasn’t always been kind to the Wildcats, though, as Arizona is just 3-7 in the last five years of making the trip.

The Wildcats will play the Trojans at Galen Center in Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.

Here are some of the key storylines for tonight’s game:

Trojans got talent

For all their struggles, the Trojans still have a few talented players on the roster.

In recent games, junior guard J.T. Terrell has been a standout.

The Burlington, N.C., product has scored 15.2 points per game in his last five on 44 percent shooting. Even more impressive is his efficiency from deep: Terrell has hit 3.4 3-pointers per game in that span at a 48.6 percent clip. On the year, he’s fourth in the conference with 2.2 3-pointers made per game.

“J.T. Terrell really started to play well,” Miller said. “He’s a guy that can make shots. He went on a run from three, and the percentage that he shot since our game and his points per game for USC has been a much different story. A lot of that has to do with how well he shot the ball from three.”

Against Arizona, Terrell shot 1-for-7 with three points.

The Trojans’ strength, though, lies in the frontcourt, as USC employs two 7-footers in Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby.

Dedmon is the starting center, and he’s a solid shot-blocker, swatting 2.1 blocks per game, good for third-best in the conference. As a team, USC is second in the Pac-12 with five blocks per game.

“They have a lot of talented big guys and [Eric] Wise, who can score,” Miller said.

Eric Wise is USC’s leading scorer at 11.9 points per game.

At point guard, Jio Fontan is solid; he’s second in the conference in assists with 5.1 per contest.

What does that all add up to?

“You put all of that together and you have one or two players shooting the ball well. They can beat anybody in our conference, and they’ve really shown that,” Miller said.

Arizona’s man in the middle

Going up against Dedmon in the low post will be Arizona freshman Kaleb Tarczewski, who’s really come on lately.

Tarczewski was Arizona’s Pac-12 Player of the Week nominee (he lost to Cal’s Justin Cobbs) last week by averaging 11.0 points and seven rebounds per game while shooting 66.7 percent (8-of-12) from the field. He scored a season-high 12 points on Saturday against Washington State.

“Lately, it’s important we get him the ball,” Miller said. “That’s ever-evolving. There’s a time where that wouldn’t have been smart for us to try to go to him more, but right now, no question [that] the more we’re able to get him the ball in scoring position, I think the better our team is.”

Tarczewski is shooting 64.0 percent from the field over his last six games (16-of-25), and on the season the 7-footer averages 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 52.0 percent from the field.

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