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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats wise to not overlook USC

Simon Asher

Rawle Alkins (1) pushes the ball up the court against USC on Thursday, Jan. 19. The Wildcats won 73-66.

In what is expected to be the most crucial weekend for the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats taking on No. 5 UCLA, don’t look forward to Saturday just yet. 

It’s difficult to shy away from focusing on the first top-5 matchup in the Pac-12 Conference since 2008 and the highest ranked opponent to come into McKale Center since Florida in 2012, but there is still the matter of USC before we get to that matchup. 

USC comes in on a two-game losing skid against fellow Pac-12 superiors at home versus Oregon and embarrassed by 32 points on the road against UCLA. The Trojans are hungry and are at the point in the season where every loss matters. 

USC sits in fifth place of the Pac-12 and is currently a projected No. 10 seed in the East bracket of the NCAA Tournament, but its seed is dropping, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. What better way to improve that bubble resume than to have a road win against an Arizona team that will most likely be a top-3 seed. 

The last time Arizona and USC met was a month ago in Los Angeles when the Wildcats nearly gave up a 23-point lead. Lauri Markkanen banked in a 3-pointer off the glass with 33 seconds left to secure the win, and the Wildcats narrowly avoided disaster. 

Since then, Markkanen went on a five-game slump shooting 5-for-25 before scoring 45 points and gathering 24 rebounds last weekend against the Washington schools. Markkanen was crucial for a wounded Arizona team who lost Kadeem Allen with a dislocated pinky and Dusan Ristic with a level-one lateral ankle sprain. 

“[Markkanen] was big this week, because we were shorthanded, because we played two road games. We’re late in the conference season and he was terrific in both games,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. 

Miller expects Ristic to return against USC. Allen’s injury was more complex because the skin was broken through.  Miller said the bone popped out of his finger in practice, which required seven stitches. However, Allen should be “full-go” against the Trojans, according to Miller. 

“We have a pretty good gauge on his health. There’s nothing structurally wrong with his hand or finger,” Miller said. 

So Arizona is expected to be at full force against USC, but both teams have two different players that didn’t play against each other the first time around. 

Allonzo Trier didn’t play against the Trojans, and USC forward Bennie Boatwright returned at the beginning of February after missing 15 games. Since Boatwright’s comeback, he’s scored double figures in every game and came off his first double-double performance of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds against UCLA. 

The Trojans are 21-6, and four of their losses were against ranked opponents. Don’t sleep or the Trojan horse will invade the almighty McKale Center and spoil Arizona’s extravagant weekend. 

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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