Arizona (26-3, 14-1 Pac-12) will host a formidable USC (21-6, 8-6) team on Thursday night in McKale Center — the beginning of Arizona’s final homestand this season.
“College Gameday is big, but we have a game in front of that first,” said UA guard Kobi Simmons. “We have to handle USC first.”
In the first matchup between USC and Arizona, Arizona got out to a massive lead, but nearly squandered it away in the final minutes.
The Wildcats led 56-34 with 11 minutes to play, but the Trojans cut the deficit to just 67-64 with a minute to play. Ultimately, Arizona hung on to win 73-66 in Los Angeles.
Not only will the venues change for Thursday’s matchup, but both teams will look a little different, too.
On Arizona’s side, it will have Allonzo Trier this time. The sophomore guard missed the first matchup between these teams due to a suspension (which was lifted a day later). The Wildcats are 8-1 since Trier’s return — albeit it has not been the prettiest basketball — and he is averaging 13.9 points per game, the second-best mark on the team.
For USC, it will have the services of sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright this time around.
The 6-foot-10 forward has missed a significant amount of time with multiple injuries, but he returned on Feb. 1 and has scored in double figures in every game since. Like Trier, Boatwright is second on his team in scoring, averaging 14.1 points per game.
“We didn’t face USC with him the last time,” UA head coach Sean Miller said. “From an offensive perspective, he’s one of our conference’s toughest matchups. He’s really one heck of a player at 6-foot-9. A lot like Lauri, he brings things to the table that a lot of frontcourt players don’t.”
Despite being 6-foot-10, Boatwright has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot the 3. His shooting percentages have dipped compared to last season — he is shooting 33 percent from 3 this season after shooting 36 percent from 3 last season — but his presence alone opens up the floor for the rest of the Trojans.
Lauri Markkanen, who was last week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week, will be tasked with covering him.
“I don’t know if we have an advantage,” Miller said, regarding that matchup. “I think Lauri’s one of the most talented players in our conference. He’s had plenty of big challenges throughout his first year, but he’ll have a big one on Thursday.”
The Trojans, sitting fifth in the conference standings, have three other scorers that are averaging north of 12 points per game in guards Jordan McLaughlin (12.7) and Elijah Stewart (13.4) and center Chimezie Metu (14.2).
Stewart scored 20 points against Arizona last game, hitting five 3-pointers. McLaughlin had 14 points and eight assists.
Metu had a rough outing — posting 11 points on 13 shots with seven rebounds — but the athletic 6-foot-11 big man is USC’s leading scorer and rebounder (7.3 RPG).
“USC is very, very good,” Miller said, adding that the Trojans play mostly man defense but do mix in a zone. “They’re an NCAA Tournament team. In fairness to them, you have to judge them with Bennie Boatwright. He gives them an element that they played a long, long time without. That’s to their credit because they were very successful like we were during that period of time.”
The Wildcats are coming off what Miller called “one of the best weeks” of their season, as they swept the Washington schools on the road.
And that was without two starters for most of the trip.
Kadeem Allen (dislocated pinky) missed both games, while Dusan Ristic (ankle sprain) missed half of Thursday’s game versus Washington State and all of Saturday’s game versus Washington.
The good news for the Wildcats is Miller expects both of them to play against USC.
“And in some ways we expect both guys to be fully functional as well,” he said Monday.
Arizona has four games in a row since its lone conference loss to Oregon, while USC has lost its last two, dropping games to heavyweights Oregon and UCLA.
The Wildcats have won two games in a row against the Trojans, as well as four of the last five contests.
Arizona has won 20 straight games in McKale Center, and 69 of its last 70 at home in total.
How to watch Thursday’s game
Time: 8 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live stream: Pac-12 Live
Announcers: Ted Robinson, Steve Lavin, Lewis Johnson
How they match up
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