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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


No. 5 Arizona MBB defeats UCLA, falls to USC after clinching Pac-12 regular-season title

Oliivia Malone
Arizona’s Kesha Johnson (16) takes a shot in UA’s game against USC on Wednesday, Jan. 17. The game ended in a 82-67 win for the Wildcats.

The No. 5 Arizona men’s basketball team (24-7, 15-5 in Pac-12) went on the road this week to face UCLA and USC. The Wildcats clinched their 18th Pac-12 regular-season title on Thursday, March 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Pauley Pavilion, beating the Bruins 88-65. This marked Arizona’s first victory in Pauley Pavilion since 2017. The Wildcats then headed to USC on Saturday, March 9, at 8 p.m. in Galen Center and ultimately fell to the Trojans 78-65.

Game 1: Arizona vs. UCLA – Thursday, March 7

First half

The Wildcats had a brief 5-0 start at the beginning of the first period, with shots coming from Pelle Larsson and Keshad Johnson, shortly after answered on the other end by Dylan Andrews scoring on a jumper. Back-to-back shots from Adem Bona caught UCLA up to the 1-point lead Arizona had. Andrews tied the game at 11 with a 3-pointer as both teams went toe-to-toe until Arizona was able to grab onto a 5-point lead and would continue to extend it. Kylan Boswell separated the Wildcats further on their 10-0 run, forcing a UCLA timeout after a made 3-pointer to push the score to 27-17.

The Bruins never found a way to regain the lead the rest of the game, but got back within 6 points of the score after a made layup by Sebastian Mack. The Wildcats stretched the score to 37-23 with a shot from beyond the arc by Caleb Love. Arizona built a steady lead, scoring 14 points with under 5 minutes left in the first half, 9 of which came from Love. The Wildcats went into halftime leading the Bruins by 17 points with a 44-27 score. Love led Arizona in the first quarter with 12 points, two assists and three rebounds and UCLA was led by Andrews, who scored 11 points and two rebounds.

Second half

As the Bruins tried to make a comeback, the beginning of the second quarter started with a jumper by Andrews to cut the lead down to 15, until Oumar Ballo made a dominant dunk off a lob from Larsson, pushing the lead back up to 17. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Larsson and Love created a larger deficit that quickly extended into a 59-33 score that was then cut into with a 3-pointer by UCLA’s Lazar Stefanovic. Arizona went on multiple runs, holding UCLA to plenty of scoring droughts as they led by 26 points approaching the halfway mark of the second period. The Wildcats had 33 points coming from the bench compared to the Bruins’ 15 points. With under 5 minutes left in regulation, KJ Lewis scored a 3-pointer which was soon after complemented by a jumper from Paulius Murauskas, creating the largest lead of the night at 28. Stefanovic shot the last field goal of the game as Arizona claimed a statement 88-65 victory over UCLA, clinching the Pac-12 regular-season title.

Lewis led Arizona with 18 points, four assists and five rebounds while Love added on 17 points, two assists and three rebounds. Stefanovic led the Bruins with 20 points and four rebounds.

Head coach Tommy Lloyd spoke about balance and strategy used during the game.

“We have this group of young guys that are really talented, so we’ve really tried to be conscientious these last two weeks of building up these younger guys […]. Those guys are really good players; they’re really talented and they’ve been through a whole season […]. I asked them all to step it up a little bit and luckily they responded,” Lloyd said.

Game 2: Arizona vs. USC – Saturday, March 9

First half

Love wasted no time scoring the first points for Arizona with a layup, but  DJ Rodman answered on the other end to score for USC. Boswell put the Wildcats ahead 7-2 with a 3-pointer, until the Trojans made back-to-back 3-pointers taken by Isaiah Collier and Boogie Ellis to gain their first lead of the game. After back-and-forth possessions, Bronny James grabbed a 2-point advantage for the Trojans on a made dunk. USC would continue to extend the score to 27-22.

Arizona tightened up its offense, getting within 1 point of the 27-26 USC lead with a layup by Johnson. Ballo and Jaden Bradley then reclaimed a 1-point lead for Arizona in the closing minutes of the first quarter until James shot a step-back 3-pointer, sending USC into halftime leading 34-30. Ballo led Arizona in the first half with 8 points and seven rebounds while Kobe Johnson led the Trojans with 9 points, two rebounds and two assists.

Second half

USC was able to extend its lead to 8 only 2 minutes into the second half, until Johnson scored on a 3-pointer, closing in on the 38-35 score. USC would keep Arizona at arm’s length throughout the period, which didn’t stop Johnson from shooting back-to-back 3-pointers in hopes of continuing to shorten the lead. USC continued to score on possessions, extending the deficit as the Wildcats got within 4 points, slowly chipping away the lead.

Players on each team experienced foul trouble as Larsson fouled out almost halfway through the second half. The Trojans suddenly led 60-49 when Rodman made a layup to gain a double-digit advantage. Approaching the 5-minute mark of the second half, Vincent Iwuchukwu scored a jumper, keeping the USC lead stable and not allowing Arizona to get closer within the score. The Trojans led the most by 16 points from a dunk by Joshua Morgan in the last 2 minutes of the game, ultimately picking up the 78-65 victory in Arizona’s regular-season finale. Love went 1-10 on shooting for the night as the Wildcats collected 18 turnovers and were led by Johnson and Ballo, who each scored 17 points apiece. Johnson had five assists and three rebounds while Ballo piled on 10 rebounds. Trojan players Rodman and Johnson scored 19 points each for USC and Johnson added on four assists and three rebounds while Rodman had seven rebounds.

“We’re thankful these guys have had a great regular season and, you know, to win a Pac-12 regular-season championship, nothing should be taken lightly. Obviously, we wanted to play better today and we didn’t but maybe we were given a gift by USC and we can really learn from this, so that’s going to be our focus,” Lloyd said during a press conference held after the loss.

Looking ahead:

Arizona will stay on the road as the Wildcats head to Las Vegas to play in a quarterfinal game as the No. 1 seed to begin their run in the Pac-12 Tournament that begins on Thursday, March 14, at noon in T-Mobile Arena.

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