The Arizona Wildcats can't afford to lose games against the Pac-12 bottom-feeders like the USC Trojans, but the importance of nabbing every conference win is that much larger this week. The Trojans are coming off a loss as embarrassing as they come in a 62-53 defeat to an Arizona State team without three of its better players suspended.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats themselves lost to a .500 UCLA Bruin squad. With the Pac-12 looking distressingly worse by the day, the room for error -- and embarrassment -- is becoming exponentially important.
In the Galen Center today at 3:30 p.m. MST, Arizona finds itself in an early must-win situation.As the season has developed, it's become clear that there's a simple, yet increasingly hard formula for making the NCAA tournament; win the Pac-12 Tournament, because at this rate, winning the most conference games and the regular season title may not even be good enough for the tourney committee to give out more than one seed.
This is that big of a game, because without any strong wins, the Wildcats can't afford any embarrassing loses to give the committee reason to keep them on the outside looking in come March.
Look, it'd be a historically incredible and unlucky swing of things if the Pac-12 can't get more than one team into the tournament, let alone two. But with 16 games remaining and the magic number to sneak into the tourney at 22 or so and without any big-time victories, the 10-5 (1-1 Pac-12) Wildcats have to take care of business just to sneak in.
And while the transitive property of math doesn't necessarily work in sports, Arizona's dominance of ASU more than a week ago and a weaker Sun Devil team beating the Trojans simply means this should be a no-brainer.
Freshman versus little man
The Trojans have won one game in their last eight, and are led by speedster and diminutive point guard Maurice Jones, a 5-foot-7, 155-pounder that averages 14.3 points and 3.8 assists a game. He'll be a handful for Josiah Turner, especially if Arizona's freshman remains persistent in getting out of defensive position by taking risks to steal the ball.
How will Johnson recover?
Guard Nick Johnson is coming off one of his worst performances of the year, a 1-for-6 shooting outing against the Bruins on Thursday. It was less of a struggle for Johnson and more a matter of UCLA taking him out of the game, and how he recovers against the Trojans will be a sign of his mental fortitude or lack thereof.
Finding a rhythm
Arizona struggled to push the pace against UCLA and instead succumbed to the Bruins' interior length. The Trojans have neither superior length, nor much of a bench. After 7-foot center Dewayne Dedmon, they don't have much for size in the regular rotation, and 6-foot-6 Aaron Fuller is the leading rebounder, so the Wildcats might be able to go 10 deep and push their tempo back to what it was before the UCLA game.