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What to watch for when Arizona faces USC in the Pac-12 Tournament

arizona-usc-pac-12-tournament-preview-what-to-watch-live-stream-tv-channel-time-bracket-basketball Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — The ninth-seeded Arizona Wildcats (17-13, 8-10) will take on the eighth-seeded USC Trojans (15-17, 8-10) on Wednesday at noon PT to open the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Trojans routed the Wildcats 80-57 on Jan. 24 in Los Angeles. Here are some things to watch for in the rematch.

Taking care of the ball

Once the only strength of Arizona’s offense, limiting turnovers has been a challenge for the Wildcats lately, averaging 14.3 over the last three games, about three more than their season average.

Relatedly, Arizona is coming off two of its worst offensive outings of the season, including at Oregon where the Wildcats committed 15 turnovers and were held to 47 points.

“We’re not good enough to overcome that many turnovers,” said UA coach Sean Miller. “We have too many things that are against us already. We don’t have a large margin for error and the game again at Oregon and our last game of the season against ASU, it reflected what it feels like when we don’t do what we do best.”

Brandon Williams’ foul trouble

Brandon Williams’ minutes have been limited in the four games since he returned from his knee injury, yet to log more than 21.

That is partly because the Wildcats are easing him back into the rotation, but also because he continues to get himself into foul trouble. The freshman has fouled out in two of the past three games, a trend that cannot continue if the Wildcats want to keep their season alive. Arizona doesn’t have the talent or depth to overcome it.

“It’s kind of uncommon for a guard to get in foul trouble like Brandon has, but his intent is good,” Miller said. “I would just say he’s a little bit rusty. There’s a big difference between a few practices and game action. And the other part is we’re talking about late-season games. So players are really strong in their roles, they’ve played a lot of basketball, it’s not like picking it up in November, December, so it makes perfect sense to see him have some issues, but the more that he practices and plays, the more he’ll return to form.”

Let’s cut to the Chase

USC center Nick Rakocevic eviscerated the Wildcats for 27 points and 12 rebounds on 13-of-17 shooting in Los Angeles on Jan. 24.

The difference this time is Arizona will have Chase Jeter at its disposal. The UA center missed the first matchup with a back injury, forcing the Wildcats to play super small-ball, which clearly was not in their best interest.

“We’re a better team with Chase and especially ‘SC , the strength of their team I think lies in their two big guys,” Miller said. “I mean statistically Bennie Boatwright and Rakocevic they combine for 33 points per game. If you look at the shooting percentage, it’s really a 50 percent from the field overall. Obviously, Bennie is one of the premier shooters in the country, especially with his size. He’s shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line. You look at their rebounding, especially Rakocevic, he has 101 offensive rebounds in 31 games. I think that’s either tops in our conference or top three, so they they hurt you in every way. And so having Chase versus not having Chase of course that’s going to be to our benefit.”

A true coin flip

Even though the Trojans destroyed the Wildcats the first time around, this game is basically considered a coin flip by KenPom, which gives Arizona a 51 percent chance of winning with a projected score of 71-70.

Homecourt advantage

When Arizona faced USC in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game last year, T-Mobile was 80 percent UA fans, and that might even be a low estimate.

Look, the Wildcats need all the help they can get just to win one game in this tournament, and it sure won’t hurt if they have an energetic crowd behind them.

That said, it will be interesting to see how many UA fans show up. It is a down year plus the noon tip-off on a Wednesday doesn’t do any favors.

A 20-point scorer

As our Brian Pedersen unearthed, Arizona hasn’t had a player score 20 or more points in a game since Williams set a career high with 20 against Oregon State on Jan. 19.

That was just the 10th 20-point performance Arizona has had this year, three fewer than any other Pac-12 team, and 32 less than last season’s team.

Weird things are going to have to happen for the Wildcats to make a run in the Pac-12, so why not start there?