It was so close. A last-second 3-pointer by Aari McDonald did everything but fall at Stanford. A couple of questionable calls, an inability to make free throws down the stretch and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year turned the Wildcats back in overtime at Cal. An experienced Oregon State team held on in double overtime in McKale Center.
If any one of those games—especially the Cal game—turned out differently, it’s likely the Arizona Wildcats would have avoided the dreaded 8-9 game in the Pac-12 Tournament. After all, a win at Haas Pavilion would have given the Wildcats and Golden Bears identical 8-10 records and Arizona the season sweep.
As it stands, the Wildcats ended up the No. 8 seed in the tournament, preparing for No. 9 seeded USC. It’s not necessarily that USC is better than Arizona. In their only matchup this season, Arizona beat USC in a close 71-68 game in Tucson. That game was part of a 1-7 stretch that opened the Pac-12 season for USC.
However, that 1-7 record over the first four weeks points to something else: USC has gone 6-4 since then. They are playing their best basketball when it matters the most, and they won’t be playing in the unfriendly confines of McKale Center where Arizona went 11-5 this season.
USC features a little more offensive balance. They are led by three players averaging double-digit scoring: Aliyah Mazyck (15.6 ppg), Minyon Moore (15.1 ppg) and Mariya Moore (13.1 ppg). No one else on the team averages more than 6.8 ppg.
On Arizona’s side, only two players average double digits: McDonald (24.9 ppg) and Cate Reese (11.1 ppg), although Sam Thomas is close with 9.5 ppg. No one else averages over 7.2 ppg.
As those numbers suggest, HerHoopStats.com rates Arizona as a far better defensive team, but USC as the better offensive team. If the Wildcats live up to their defensive reputation, they should be able to overcome the slightly better offense of the Women of Troy.
Even if that comes to pass, though, Arizona faces the problem of what lies beyond a win. Should the team pull out their second victory over USC on Thursday, their reward would be a match-up with No. 1-seeded Oregon in the second round. The same Ducks team that held the Wildcats to zero points in the fourth quarter last Friday.
The other three top seeds are Stanford, Oregon State and UCLA. The Wildcats have played all three of those teams close on at least one occasion this season. Against Oregon, the most they can say is that they played the Ducks tough for 30 minutes in each game—and got blown out for the other 10.
Before they can worry about that, though, they need to take care of the Women of Troy. Arizona faces off against USC at 3 p.m. MST on Thursday. The game will air on the Pac-12 Networks.