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Struggling Trojans will lean on defense against Arizona Wildcats

Time: 6:30 p.m. MST


Sean Miller and his Arizona Wildcats will never admit they're favored in a game -- it's not in their vocabulary to do so.

Respecting opponents might turn to feeling sorry for them tonight when the Wildcats (19-9, 10-5 Pac-12) face the injury-riddled USC Trojans in McKale Center.

To knock it down to one sentence, the Trojans ( 6-21, 1-13) have lost a starting lineup's worth of players from their original roster, leaving them with seven players and no depth. The only notable player you might remember from last season is diminutive, 5-foot-7 point guard Maurice Jones.

After that, head coach Kevin O'Neill is working with what he's got left.

O'Neill, who Miller told the media his "heart goes out" to, is still trucking along, defeated and knowing that winning just doesn't seem all that plausible considering the terrible run of luck. The Trojans have lost 17 of their last 19 games with a lone victory against the Utah Utes being their only Pac-12 success of the season.

"I mean, there's nobody going to get eligible, there's no trades," O'Neill told the media. "I wish we had a couple of 10-days, but there's going to be none of that. So our team is constructed, and that's the way we're going to be."

But USC can put a scare into teams with its defensive intensity, something that hasn't been lost on the revamped roster that can be traced back to O'Neill's personality not losing impact on his struggling team.

With the worst scoring offense in the Pac-12 at 53.4 points per game, the Trojans rank as the best team in scoring defense spanning the entire season. At 59.5 points given up per game, they're the only team in the league giving up less than 60 points to opponents, while the Wildcats come in at No. 4 in the Pac-12 by allowing 62.7 points per game.

While that might be due to a slow tempo to keep games in reach rather than pure defensive talent, credit needs to be given in some part.

However it's clear, as the season has progressed and teams at the top half of the conference have improved, that the difference between the Trojans and those teams has become more distinct.

In their first conference game of the year, USC lost to the Pac-12-leading California Golden Bears by four points. On Feb. 9, in their second meeting, they were blasted by a score of 75-49. This month they've also lost to Wazzou by seven, Washington by 18, Stanford by 12 and UCLA by 10.

Led by Jones, a sophomore, youthful energy has been on the Trojans side, even if they are losing.

In their last game, a 64-54 loss to UCLA, freshman guard Byron Wesley tied a career-high with 16 points. The 6-foot-5, 210 pound guard has taken his opportunity to play with gusto, scoring in double-digits in seven of his last eight games. So too has sophomore forward Garrett Jackson, who has averaged a little over 12 points per game in his last seven outings.

On Arizona's end, this one will simply come down to effort.

And after a five game winning streak was snapped last Saturday against the Washington Huskies, it wasn't a symptom of a missing effort rather than one of losing to a more talented team.

The Wildcats have the opportunity to bury a weaker opponent in front of a home crowd, and it's a good thing that doing so will still require an attacking and aggressive effort leading into a tougher game -- a Red-out has been called for the one-game's use of the Wildcats' Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms -- against the Bruins on Saturday.