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USC vs. Arizona: Bob Cantu's second shot at the Wildcats

Bob Cantu faces the Arizona Wildcats for the second time as USC Trojans head coach.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Time: 5 p.m. MST


Arizona Wildcats fans have used up their chances to point venomous remarks at Kevin O'Neill.

He's out as the USC Trojans head coach, and Bob Cantu is in. The coaching change was a reset button that could get a talented team full of transfers playing to play rather than playing with O'Neill's voice in their ear.

Cantu will take his second shot at the Wildcats and Sean Miller Saturday, the first time as a semi-permanent head coach. His first experience, if you remember, came in the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament, when O'Neill was suspended after getting into an altercation with one of Lute Olson's supporters.

Cantu is 1-2 since taking over, and the Trojans (8-12, 3-4 Pac-12) overall aren't in as dire of a situation as their record nor the firing indicates. Simply put, USC has beaten who you could say their talent says they should, and they've kept every one of their four conference losses within single digits. Most impressively, they lost in Los Angeles 76-74 to the Oregon Ducks, who have yet to lose a Pac-12 game themselves.

Meanwhile, Arizona and UCLA consider to take turns in helping out the Ducks. The Wildcats' loss to the Bruins saw poor field goal shooting, in part due to easy missed shots and in part because of the continuing issues on offense.

But Arizona (16-2, 4-2 Pac-12) can finally be happy that its rivals up north are making it a necessity for other teams to have a little more of a one-two punch to call a trip to the state successful. The Sun Devils took the Trojans to overtime before pulling out a 98-93 victory. In that one, ASU led by six in regulation before USC guard J.T. Terrell hit two threes in the final 27 seconds to bring his team to a tie before the end of the second half.

Terrell, formerly of Wake Forest, is one of many transfers for USC. Four of the Trojans' top five scorers -- Terrell, guard Jio Fontan, center Omar Oraby and 13-point per game scorer Eric Wise -- started their collegiate careers elsewhere.

Where will the Trojans cause the Wildcats trouble?

Playing with no pressure

After scouting the Trojans, UA assistant coach Book Richardson told Bruce Pascoe that USC is playing "loose." That's generally the worry when playing a team -- one in USC that doesn't lack in talent -- which recently relieved its head coach.

And as Wildcats fans know very well, O'Neill's style often stifled a team that would otherwise have the talent and skillset to make other teams look silly; look no further than the freeness of players like Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill under O'Neill and then under Mike Dunlap and Russ Pennell.

Three-point shooting

Wise, a 6-foot-6, 240 pound transfer from UC-Irvine, shoots 52 percent from the floor and is easily the most deadly threat from deep, connecting on 49 percent from three-point range.

While 7-foot-2 center Oraby comes off the bench, 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon is the acting center in a three-guard lineup. That means Brandon Ashley will need to run at Wise off the ball and have a hand in his face on it.

Size versus speed

The three-guard starting lineup for USC has speed, but Fontan (6-foot, 175 pounds), Terrell (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) and Byron Wesley (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) are all at a physical disadvantage to the Wildcats.

Mark Lyons had a big game against an undersized Jahii Carson last week, getting the thin point guard in foul trouble then attacking him even more. Nick Johnson, as usual, has the athletic advantage and Solomon Hill's power-forward-trained physicality could be a counter against Wesley.