When Rawle Alkins is healthy and plays well, the Arizona Wildcats win.
It's a simple formula.
The sophomore, who has missed 12 games this season because of a foot injury, scored nine total points during UA's two-game losing streak, but Saturday he easily surpassed that amount and the Wildcats returned to winning ways.
Alkins had a game-high 20 points and 5 assists as Arizona routed USC, 81-67, in McKale Center, snapping its two game skid and handing the Trojans their third straight loss.
“It was no secret that I’ve been struggling these last weeks, so I’ve been putting extra work in in the gym and it’s paying off," Alkins said.
Alkins, who was 7-of-12 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3, spearheaded a Wildcat offense that was hitting on all cylinders. They shot 56 percent and connected on 9 of 20 3-pointers.
Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier scored 18 and 14, respectively, while Dusan Ristic posted his fifth double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Head coach Sean Miller thought it was one of Arizona's best performances all season.
“What makes this sweeter than most is that it’s not easy to pick yourself off the mat," he said. "Losing a home game at McKale isn’t a good feeling. However, we are 81-3 the last 84 games. All three of them, it doesn’t feel good. And to be able to go off of a Thursday night loss and be ready Saturday isn’t an easy thing, and I credit our guys, our team, our leadership of our team.
“Rawle was fighting through that injury and hasn’t played well recently, so to see him come out with that confidence was a great feeling. ... To have him play like that, we’re a different team.”
Defense has been Arizona's Achilles' heel this season, but it fared better than usual on that end of the floor, holding a usually-dangerous Trojan attack to 44 percent shooting.
The Wildcats also outrebounded USC, 40-22, and had six blocks.
"I think we did a lot of good things. For example, stopping the ball on dribble penetration," Ristic said.
“Against UCLA we couldn’t stop their dribble penetration, but today was a completely different story. We did a really good job. Our ball screen (defense) was good. I don’t want to say it was perfect, because there’s still room for improvement, but I think we played much better … than two days ago and it’s good to see this team responded well."
Arizona improves to 20-6 overall and 10-3 in the Pac-12. Suddenly, a team that appeared to be reeling now has a two-game lead atop the conference standings, as UCLA lost to ASU earlier in the night, while Washington fell to Oregon State on a buzzer-beater.
“I don’t think we were panicking," Miller said. "We lost a game. We lost to UCLA and sometimes a loss can really teach your team a lot of valuable lessons. I feel like everybody that played in tonight’s game learned from that experience."
Had Arizona lost Saturday, it would have surrendered sole possession of first place. And getting it back wouldn't have been easy, either. UA's next three games are on the road.
“I think we knew how important how important this game was when it comes to winning the Pac-12," Alkins said. “So we came out hard. We don’t ever lose in McKale. I think we’re 81-3 in McKale so to have that loss against UCLA, it kind of hurt us and we showed that tonight."
And right from the first whistle. Arizona avoided one of its patented slow starts, making five of its first six shots to start the game, and an Alkins 3 put UA up 12-7 less than four minutes in.
USC wound up capturing a 20-18 lead after Elijah Stewart blew past Alkins for layup, but Arizona regained its form after a timeout and immediately went on a 9-0 run to re-take a 27-20 lead.
Later, back-to-back 3s by Alkins extended that advantage to 35-27 and a jumper by Ayton made it 37-27 with 1:21 left in the period.
Arizona led 37-31 at the break and took another 10-point lead early in the second half, but the Trojans responded with 10-0 run to tie it at 41 with 16:19 to play.
USC made four straight shots during that span. Miller thought UA's defense was stellar otherwise, especially compared to Thursday's loss when UCLA shot 52 percent.
“Our defense was night-and-day," he said. "Even when they scored, they earned it. At the beginning of the second half, we reverted and we didn’t play with great effort and we weren’t connected and it felt that way. But other than that small window of time, I thought it was one of best overall performances because we played both (offense and defense)."
After USC tied it, Arizona outscored the Trojans 40-26 in the final 16 minutes. The Wildcats shot 59 percent in the second half and even their bench outscored USC's, 8-7, getting solid contributions from guys like Keanu Pinder and Ira Lee.
“We had more energy and even our bench played with extremely high level of energy today, and that was the reason why we won," Ristic said. "Not only our starters played well, but the whole team.”
The Wildcats will need a similar effort next Thursday when they face a surging ASU team in Tempe. The Sun Devils have won three straight, including a sweep of the L.A. schools.
Arizona won the first matchup in Tucson, but barely.
So when Miller was asked how he will get his team up for that game, he said he hopes he doesn't have to.
"A terrific opponent, great atmosphere, a rivalry. This weekend and next week is why you come to a place like Arizona," he said. "You want to play in big games that matter and every game from this point will be big."
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire