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Trip to USC, UCLA begins Arizona’s toughest stretch of season

arizona-wildcats-usc-trojans-ucla-bruins-road-trip-pac-12-college-basketball-history Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

And now comes the hard part.

Following a fairly easy first third of the Pac-12 conference schedule, in which the Arizona Wildcats posted a 5-1 record, the upcoming stretch of games figures to be the most difficult of the 2018-19 season.

When Arizona plays Thursday at USC it will mark the start of a three-game road trip, something that occurs nearly every year in league play thanks to the Pac-12’s scheduling formula. After playing at USC and UCLA on Saturday, the Wildcats then visit Arizona State on Jan. 31.

Their next home game isn’t until Feb. 7, a span of 19 days between tilts as McKale Center, and that’s against current Pac-12 leader Washington.

Thankfully, Arizona is as good on the road as it gets in Pac-12 play. Under Sean Miller it is 52-31 on the road in conference action, including 2-0 this season after sweeping Stanford and California two weeks ago.

But the Bay Area trip has been the easiest of the four road swings for Arizona, having gone 28-12 on that trip since 1998-99. Under Miller that mark is 15-3, including six sweeps.

The Los Angeles trip is a completely different matter. Arizona is 6-8 at UCLA and USC under Miller and 15-21 there over the past two decades. During Miller’s tenure, which dates back to 2009-10, Arizona has suffered only five road sweeps in Pac-12 play and three have been in southern California, most recently in 2015-16.

The Wildcats have also swept the LA schools on the road twice under Miller, most recently in January 2017, which was their last time making that swing since a SoCal trip wasn’t on last season’s schedule. That sweep was highlighted by the return of Allonzo Trier, who had missed the first 19 games after testing positive for a banned substance but was cleared the night before Arizona’s 96-85 win at third-ranked UCLA.

Trier had 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench in 27 minutes.

The previous year, in January 2016, the Wildcats went to LA with a 13-1 record and lost by a combined five points at UCLA and USC. The latter game went to four overtimes, with Arizona falling 103-101 behind 25 from Trier (who played most of the extra sessions with a broken hand).

The last four visits to UCLA and USC have resulted in Arizona sweeping or being swept. You have to go back to 2012 to find an LA trip that resulted in a split.