Now they’re scrambling to get back on track and are in danger of losing a third straight game for the second time this season as they welcome the USC Trojans (17-8, 8-4) to McKale Center on Saturday night.
This is a big one. The top spot in the conference is on the line, both teams have lost their last two and the Wildcats are coming off their first home loss of the season which happened to be their worst performance since late November.
Before you lock in your picks, you need to see what SportsLine’s advanced projection model has to say. The model, which crushed college hoops last season, enters the weekend on a strong 13-6 run on its top-rated college basketball picks.
Can the Wildcats rebound following Thursday night’s miserable loss to UCLA? What will it take to get back to winning ways?
Let’s take a look at three keys to Arizona winning Saturday night’s showdown.
The Trojans were doing a great job of taking care of the ball and ripping it away from their opponent in Pac-12 play. They won or tied in the turnover department for their first 11 conference games.
That came crashing to an end on Thursday night as USC was a mess, turning the ball over 18 times to the Sun Devils’ six. ASU ended up winning 80-78.
While it’s unlikely that USC will give the ball away that many times in McKale, they could be ripe for the picking after a sloppy, fumbling performance in Tempe.
Arizona has been guilty of going on streaks of sloppiness all season long. They had a rough first half against UCLA the other night. Arizona simply can’t afford that against USC though the Trojans will be trying to create chaos for the Wildcats as they have done against most of their opponents. If Arizona turns the ball over, they have to fight fire with fire and play aggressive defense.
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Easier said than done, sure. But with USC’s defense, Arizona will have the looks, they just need to knock them down.
The Trojans allow opponents to shoot slightly above 35 percent from deep and that’s coming off of a ton of attempts. Whether it’s slow defensive rotations or flat out daring the opponent to shoot, the Trojans let the opposing team take close to 24 3-pointers per game.
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Arizona will need sweet shooting from Allonzo Trier, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Rawle Alkins and Dylan Smith. If Brandon Randolph can add anything from the bench, that could be huge for the Wildcats.
While it’s obvious that the defense needs to show up against USC, that feels like a lost cause at this point. The Trojans’ double-digit scorers — Chimezie Metu, Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart and Bennie Boatwright — will all likely get theirs no matter how the defense looks.
So the Wildcats could very well be better off focusing on outscoring their opponent. The looks will be there and it wasn’t long ago that Arizona had a two-game stretch where they hit 20-of-33 attempts from long range. If their shooting is closer to those numbers, it’ll likely be a successful night for the Wildcats.
TCU. The Horned Frogs (16-8, 4-7 Big 12) play in college basketball’s toughest conference, which could help them come Selection Sunday. Even so, they could stand to pick up a few more wins after missing out on resume-building wins last week in losses to No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 10 Kansas. Wins over Texas and No. 19 West Virginia this weekend could certainly help.
Scouting report: No. 13 Arizona Wildcats (19-6, 9-3) vs. USC Trojans (17-8, 8-4)
But over the last two games, both losses, Arizona has shot 10-of-34 from beyond the arc. That won’t cut it against USC.
One of the significant advantages to having an uber-athletic team is having the ability to force your way to the rim and at least come away with free throws. The Wildcats do this but not nearly enough.
Arizona tied a season-low during Thursday night’s loss, attempting only 10 free throws.
It’s been one of the extreme downsides of seeing so many zone defenses and electing to hang back and take bad 3-pointers instead of driving to the hoop through the gaps in the zone. When Arizona attacks the rim, they become increasingly difficult to beat.
Arizona has shot 20 or more free throws in 11 games this season. Their record is 10-1 in those games — the only loss came to NC State, a game where the Wildcats took 35 freebies but also happened to shoot 2-of-17 from deep.
If Trier, Alkins, Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic can create contact around the rim and end up with a myriad of free throw attempts, the losing streak should stop at two.
Share Share 5 storylines in the USC-Arizona game tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images The No. 13 Arizona Wildcats (19-6, 9-3) will battle the USC Trojans (17-8, 8-4) on Saturday in McKale Center at 8:15 p.m. MST on ESPN.
The Trojans have the No. 26 offense in the country, two spots below UCLA’s, and the No. 100 defense, 21 spots higher than the Bruins’.
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USC also likes to play at a torrid pace and shoot the 3, and has the size and skill in its front court to match UA’s. So if the Bruins were able to shred Arizona’s defense, the Trojans can too.
It’s hard to pinpoint one guy because Boatwright has typically been one of our best scorers, but the key will have him shooting from deep, and having Chimezie Metu going down low and getting those boards. Him, and especially Nick Rakocevic, have been huge on the offensive glass this year. After a poor showing vs. UCLA, Boatwright found his shooting touch vs. ASU and I think he continues the trend tonight.
Not to mention Arizona is arguably playing its worst at that end of the court right now. The Wildcats’ defensive efficiencies in the last two games were 116.7 and 118.0, which were the worst numbers they’ve put up since the Bahamas.
5 takeaways from Arizona’s loss to UCLA
Simply, Arizona’s defense is trending in the wrong direction, and USC is more than capable of adding insult to injury.
Or, the Wildcats can come out with a spirited, bounce-back performance that instills optimism into a fanbase that is quickly losing it.
Arizona has not been swept at home since the 2007-08 season when UCLA and USC trampled the Wildcats in McKale.
So, um, Arizona better hope history doesn’t repeat itself a decade later.
It’s not just that losing three straight games (and first place) would bad, but it would show that Arizona is not quite the “we can beat anybody at anytime” team that many believe they are.
The Wildcats are 9-3 in conference play because they were able to squeak by their weak Pac-12 opponents. But they are just 1-2 against UCLA, ASU, and Washington, who are NCAA Tournament-caliber teams (well, depending who you ask).
Lose to USC and it’s 1-3. Then Arizona would have to beat ASU on the road next Thursday to prevent that from becoming 1-4 — a game KenPom gives the Wildcats a 37 percent chance of winning.
Share Share How to watch USC vs. Arizona: Live stream, TV channel, game time, announcers, and radio info tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images It’s game day!
And when you look at Arizona’s résumé in its entirety, it has just three wins against teams that are universally projected to make the NCAA Tournament — Alabama, Texas A&M, and ASU. All three of those schools are projected to be 9-seeds, by the way. Not exactly world-beaters.
Arizona’s porous defense is one reason any Final Four talk right now is premature, but so is its lack of quality wins.
Meanwhile, the Trojans don’t have luxury of debating Final Fours or even Sweet 16s. They have to worry about making the tournament first. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi pegs USC as one of the last four teams in, so its margin for error is razor-thin right now.
UCLA shoots past No. 13 Arizona 82-74
Lose Saturday, and not only will the Trojans be on a three-game losing streak, but likely on the outside looking in for an NCAA Tournament bid as well.
So basically no matter what happens Saturday, one of these two teams is going to be in dire straits once the final buzzer sounds.
Aside from poor defense, there is one recurring theme in Arizona’s conference losses this year: Rawle Alkins hasn’t played well.
Trouble Bruin: Arizona smacked down by UCLA, 82-74, at McKale Center
In the three games Arizona has fallen short, Alkins is averaging 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 turnovers with a shooting line of .294/.200/.400.
He is averaging 14.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.5 turnovers in wins, shooting .511/.432/.776.
That is obviously significant difference and Alkins’ last two games were his worst yet, shooting 4-for-20 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3.
Head coach Sean Miller attributed that to Alkins’ inability to stay on the court since returning from foot surgery, whether that be games or practices.
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Alkins missed three games in a four-game stretch at one point — and several practices on top of that. He didn’t do any on-court activity during the week Arizona hosted Colorado and Utah, Miller said.
“In fairness to Rawle, it’s really a hard situation,” Miller said. “He missed 11 weeks, it was a long time ago. We got him back, started to pick up momentum in practice every day, and then he felt some soreness. If I track the amount of time he’s missed or sat out, even this week, practice one day not practice the next, it’s just very hard to be successful. And I’m sure that’s a big part of his struggles. But I believe in Rawle.”
Whatever the reason, Arizona needs Alkins to get back on track Saturday.
Another game, another top-tier point guard Arizona has to try to slow down. This time it’s USC’s Jordan McLaughlin.
The 6-foot-1 senior is averaging 12.1 points and 7.6 assists per game this season, with an assist-to-turnover ratio better than three to one. He shoots over 40 percent from distance, too.
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And while McLaughlin isn’t quite the same scorer UCLA’s Aaron Holiday is, if Arizona let’s him get into the lane like Holiday did, he’ll do plenty of damage whether he’s the one scoring or not.
That said, McLaughlin has been in a bit of slump lately, failing to score in double figures in four straight games, shooting just 4-of-15 from 3 in that stretch. Even his turnover numbers are up, committing 17 the last four games (along with 31 assists).
But last year, McLaughlin averaged 13.5 points and 5.5 assists on 10-of-19 shooting in two games against the Wildcats, and Arizona’s defense was significantly better then, so he could have quite the night Saturday.
Holiday had 17 points and 8 assists Thursday, while Alabama’s Collin Sexton and ASU’s Tra Holder each eclipsed the 30-point mark in McKale earlier this season.
Men’s Basketball: Arizona Wildcats can’t overcome UCLA Bruins, fall 82-74
Both Arizona and USC are implicated and affected by the recruiting bribery and corruption scandal that was unearthed by the FBI in September.
Both schools fired assistant coaches because of the ordeal — Book Richardson (Arizona) and Tony Bland (USC) — but the Trojans also lost one of their top returning players in De’Anthony Melton, who USC ruled ineligible after “federal prosecutors alleged David Elliott, a close family friend of Melton, received a $5,000 bribe in August in exchange for directing the player to use would-be agent Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood,” according to the LA Times.
Arizona falls to UCLA at home; what we learned in 82-74 loss to Bruins
Melton, a 6-foot-4 guard, averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists as a freshman in 2016-17. He was projected to start for the Trojans, but instead never got a chance to suit up this season.
USC got off to a disappointing start (sound familiar?), losing a home game to Princeton in December to fall to 6-4. Melton’s absence undoubtedly loomed large — and not just on the court.
USC star center Chimezie Metu has worn a #FREEDMELT shirt during postgame interviews and even tweeted this, showing his frustration about the situation, and even some distrust in his own school:
“He didn’t do anything wrong but let’s suspend him bc we’re selfish and have to protect our image” …makes sense
Like Arizona, USC is struggling to recruit now, too. The Trojans lost five-star forward Taeshon Cherry just like the Wildcats lost five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly.
Both schools are now left with just two four-star recruits in 2018, and have little to no traction on the recruiting trail.
The futures of each program have been rocked, yet they have managed to stay above water in the present, both sitting atop the Pac-12 standings.