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3 up, 3 down in Arizona’s Pac-12 Tournament loss to USC

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arizona-wildcats-up-down-pac-12-tournament-college-basketball-breakdown-recap-analysis Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Much like a wounded animal that will only continue to suffer the longer it lives, the Arizona Wildcats needed to be put out of their misery. The USC Trojans served as their angel of mercy on Wednesday, afternoon, beating Arizona 78-65 at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.

Arizona’s 15th loss, its most since Sean Miller’s first season back in 2009-10, was a lot like most of the other 14 in that it featured a few good things but far more bad ones. In the interest of balance, we’ve picked out three of each from the final outing of the Wildcats’ miserable season.

UP

Ira Lee

In a season full of flaws and disappointments, no player showed more overall improvement than Lee. By the end of the year, he was in the starting lineup, a far cry from November when he was held out of opener against Houston Baptist (as punishment for a DUI citation over the summer) and into mid-December when his penchant for fouling and turning the ball over severely limited his minutes.

Lee ended his sophomore year with 11 points and five rebounds, making all five of his shots. It was his sixth double-figure scoring game of the season, all coming since Jan. 9, and he finishes the season with a team-best .617 shooting percentage.

Brandon Williams (in the first half)

Back in the starting lineup for the first time since being shut down with knee pain in late January, Williams had 13 points and was 8 of 9 from the line. He had 11 of those points before halftime, his ability to get to the stripe helping get Arizona back into it.

But Williams only took five shots for the game, missing all three in the second half, and without him making things happen Arizona had no offensive energy coming out of the locker room.

Availability of great seats at T-Mobile Arena

Ever been to a sporting event and, as the game winds on and some people decide to leave early to beat the traffic, you take advantage of that to move down from the nose-bleed sections to the lower levels? That’s going to be possible to do from the start of the remaining games at the Pac-12 tournament since the school that regularly brings the most fans is already out.

The crowd for Wednesday’s game was noticeably light, but it still was mostly Wildcat fans, and a good number of them probably bought tickets for every day (and maybe every session). When in Vegas, right?

But now that Arizona’s done, many of them are likely to be venting their season-long frustrations at the blackjack table or on penny slots. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if the T-Mobile Arena ushers are instructed not to stop people from trying to get down to the lower bowl in an effort to keep the TV shots from looking even worse.

DOWN

Turnovers

Arizona turned it over 12 times, down from the 15 and 16 it had in the previous two games, but still above its season average of 11.5. And USC made the most of those miscues, converting them into 17 points.

This was particularly evident during the Trojans’ 18-2 run in the first half, when Arizona had four giveaways in a seven-possession span. And four of the Wildcats’ five second-half turnovers came as USC opened the period on a 23-5 run.

For a team that was as offensively inept as Arizona, the last thing it could afford to do was have empty possessions.

Second halves

Early in the season, Arizona had a penchant for looking sluggish in the first half only to come out on fire after halftime. It was the exact opposite in the final three games of the season.

The Wildcats were tied at 40 with USC after 20 minutes, the third straight game they went into the half even with their opponent. Then the Trojans outscored Arizona 38-25, leading by as many as 18, a similar development to the second halves against Oregon and ASU.

In those final three games, Arizona was outscored 119-72 after halftime.

Aggressiveness

Arizona shot 50 percent in the first half, but the real reason it was tied with USC was because it got to the free throw line 14 times (and made 11 foul shots). And less than four minutes into the second half, the Wildcats had already drawn six fouls on the Trojans.

In other words, Arizona was going to be in the bonus for the remaining 16-plus minutes.

How many fouls did USC end the second half with? Eight. The seventh didn’t come until 6:44 left, when Arizona was down 67-52.

The inability to get to the line was nothing new for Arizona, which came in 181th nationally (and seventh in the Pac-12 in free throw attempt rate).