The Arizona Wildcats (20-6, 10-3) and USC Trojans (17-9, 8-5) both entered Saturday night’s game desperate for a win with each suffering two consecutive losses.
The Wildcats were the ones able to avoid a three-game losing streak, beating the Trojans up for an 81-67 win. Arizona now holds a two-game lead in the conference over both USC and UCLA.
Arizona did what they needed to do to get back on the winning track — used their length to disturb the Trojans, crashed the glass with authority and shot the ball very well.
With the Wildcats back in the W column ahead of Thursday night’s trip to Tempe to play their rival, let’s take a look at three up and three down from tonight’s win.
Alkins had a rough go of it in the Wildcats’ two losses over the past week. He shot 4-for-20 combined against Washington and UCLA, 1-of-8 from deep, scored nine total points and only attempted one free throw. Not to mention several uncharacteristic mistakes at the defensive end.
Tonight, with the Wildcats reeling, Alkins looked far from lost and brought a much-needed spark to set the tone at both ends.
Alkins hit four 3-pointers, three of which came in the first half, on his way to a game-high 20 points and added three boards, five assists, a steal and a block.
As our Ryan Kelapire wrote in his recap, when Alkins is healthy and plays well, the Wildcats win. It truly is that simple. Alkins brought his A-game on Saturday night and the Cats’ came out with a double-digit win against a talented opponent.
Alkins deserves some of the credit for the energy being brought up a notch as he was the tone-setter. But it was the entire team that brought an improved level of effort against USC.
It was a major struggle to get going Thursday night in the loss against UCLA, and there was cause for concern that we’d see something similar from Arizona on Saturday.
Instead, there was improved ball movement on offense, winning loose balls, solid defensive play and all-around hustle.
The energy the Wildcats brought resulted in six blocked shots and affecting many others. The defense wasn’t perfect as the Trojans still got plenty of easy buckets but Arizona introducing a little chaos at the defensive end held the high-powered Trojans to 67 points and 44 percent from the floor.
Arizona’s 14-point win can be attributed to a lot of things but the number one reason has to be the Wildcats’ ability to absolutely bully USC on the glass.
They slaughtered the Trojans to a 40-22 rebounding advantage, including snagging 12 offensive boards. It wasn’t just the elite size that got it done although Dusan Ristic was responsible for 11 rebounds and Deandre Ayton brought down seven. But Allonzo Trier grabbed eight, Parker Jackson-Cartwright had three, including one offensive rebound.
Their plus-18 rebounding advantage was their third largest in Pac-12 play.
Considering how often the Wildcats have gotten themselves stuck on offense just passing it around the perimeter and settling for contested 3-pointers, crashing the offensive glass ends up being one of the most dangerous weapons that Arizona has in their arsenal.
When Arizona crashes the glass like they did on Saturday night, they’re incredibly difficult to keep down.
Arizona had a successful first half at the offensive end, scoring 37 points and taking a six-point lead to the break.
And yet, you can’t help but feel like it could have been better.
Arizona went more than 19 minutes without a free throw attempt in the first half, finally getting one up with 39 seconds left in the half, a PJC miss.
It wasn’t much better to start the second half. Through the first 33 minutes of play, the Wildcats attempted three free throws. They finished the game 8-of-12 from the line.
It’s a disservice to the Wildcats’ ability that they hold back on attacking and forcing their way to the line. For Trier especially — who had an efficient night with 14 points on 5-of-8 from the floor — when he attacks, he has such tremendous body control that he can absorb contact and get a shot off.
As mentioned in the 3 keys to beating USC article, Arizona is 10-1 when they get 20 free throw attempts. That should be their magic number on a game-to-game basis.
On a night where the Wildcats played with a certain electricity, it didn’t quite translate to everybody.
Smith had a forgetful night, shooting 0-for-4 and 0-for-2 from long range.
He only played nine minutes and when his shot isn’t falling, his minutes being shortened really makes sense. Smith hasn’t shown a lot on the defensive end and he’s displayed some sloppy ballhandling traits.
When he’s knocking down his shot, he adds a much needed scoring volume off the bench. But on a night like tonight, when he’s out of his rhythm, he’s better off watching.
Perhaps it’s the Pac-10 nerd in me, but Arizona only playing the L.A. schools once in a season just feels wrong.
Now that the games have come and gone, it feels ridiculous that we won’t see the Wildcats head to Pauley Pavilion and the Galen Center this season.
The Arizona-UCLA rivalry reached new, petty heights last season with Timeout-Gate occurring in McKale Center and the Pac-12 Tournament. The teams split their regular season games last season with the road team winning both. This year, UCLA stole another one at McKale and Arizona has to hope they meet in Las Vegas for a chance at revenge.
In regards to Arizona-USC, the last six games in Los Angeles have been split with each team winning three including the crazy four-overtime game from two years ago.
The conference isn’t split into North and South for basketball like it is in football. There are no guarantees on the schedule. But when it comes to the Arizona Wildcats and their standing rivalries with the teams from Los Angeles, an exception should be made.