The Arizona Wildcats (19-8, 9-5 Pac-12) set out on their final road trip of the season when they visit the USC Trojans (19-9, 8-7) on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Tip off is set for 8 p.m. MT with the game being shown on ESPN.
Below are our staff predictions:
Brian J. Pedersen — Arizona wins 71-65
Yes, Arizona nearly blew a 20-point lead against USC earlier this month. But that was much more about the Wildcats than the Trojans. USC has been on a downswing for the past four weeks, losing five of seven, and might be playing itself out of an NCAA tournament bid. But that’s always what will make the Trojans dangerous, since they’ve got something very big to play for and they’ll look to the near-comeback at McKale Center as an example of what they could be capable of. Let’s see if Arizona’s recent heady play on the road (compared to the lack of that in Tucson) will stand out yet again.
Adam Green — Arizona wins 78-72
Everyone is down on the Wildcats right now, so that means they’ll probably play well and get a win.
That’s how this works, right?
The truth is Arizona is not a terrible team — not at all — and is actually pretty good. They really took it to USC for most of their last game, only allowing things to get “close” late because they couldn’t make free throws. Good thing that was a one-time issue, right?
This game is tough to predict in large part because apparently the Trojans are dealing with the flu bug. Should Jonah Matthews and/or Nick Rakocevic not be at their usual level Thursday the Wildcats will surely benefit, and you have to think Arizona will come out looking to prove itself Thursday.
So I’ll say the Wildcats get the win because why not?
Ryan Kelapire — Arizona wins 74-68
I think Arizona gets a split on this road trip, and I view this as the more winnable game given the way UCLA has played lately (and the way USC has struggled).
It will be interesting to see how healthy Nick Rakocevic (illness), Jonah Mathews (illness) and Isaiah Mobley (ankle) are. The Trojans aren’t a deep team as it is, and I’m not sure they can survive if three key players are out or limited.
The Zeke Nnaji-Onyeka Okongwu battle on the block should be a lot of fun again, and could determine the outcome of the game, seeing that both teams are streaky on the perimeter. Arizona has to win the rebounding battle again.
The Trojans dominated the last 10 minutes of the first matchup, and maybe they learned something from that game that they can apply to this one.
But there is a reason USC is 2-7 in Quadrant I games. They have a versatile frontcourt but not much else, and rarely is Andy Enfield going to outcoach anybody.
Christian Mortensen — Arizona wins 79-74
Both teams will be looking at this game as a must win, which adds to its intrigue, but I’m still going to pick Arizona to come out on top.
USC was just swept by the mountain schools, and has been struggling both on and off the court in the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are, while undeniably talented, beyond unpredictable and could beat, or get beat by, any team on any given night.
However, I’m still a believer in this squad and I think that maybe this trip to LA — starting with the game at USC — is the turning point I keep waiting for.
Ronnie Stoffle — Arizona wins 73-68
USC has a front court that I thought would have been a serious matchup nightmare for the Wildcats in their first meeting. That ended up not necessarily being the case as Arizona won the rebound battle 34-30 and also snagged 12 offensive rebounds.
Of course, that game was played in Tucson and we’ve learned that Arizona is much different team at home as opposed to on the road.
The Trojans’ front court still has a chance to create a lot of problems especially if Arizona can’t hit its free throws which is an opportunity area from the first meeting (28-40 from the charity stripe).
The stakes are high in this game for both teams. It just feels like the stakes are higher for Arizona because it desperately needs a first-round bye in the conference tournament if they want a legitimate shot at winning it.
Also, this team is 5-2 after a loss this season. Give me Arizona in a close game.