Among the many things Sean Miller said had to happen for the Arizona Wildcats to be successful on the Los Angeles road trip was that they needed contributions from “everybody.”
Then two key players, including a starter, were unavailable on Thursday night, setting the stage for another ugly offensive performance that all but killed any chance of contending for the Pac-12 regular season title.
Arizona shot 28.1 percent, missing 23 of 26 3-pointers, and turned it over 15 times in a 57-48 loss to the USC Trojans at the Galen Center. The loss snapped the Wildcats’ four-game road win streak and dropped them to 19-9 overall and 9-6 in Pac-12 play, a game behind ASU, Oregon and UCLA in the loss column.
Freshman guard Josh Green did not make the trip after being diagnosed with a sprained SI joint in his lower back, while graduate senior guard Max Hazzard sat out because of personal reasons. Ira Lee started for Green and had six points but that was third-most on the team behind Zeke Nnaji (15) and Nico Mannion (13), who were a combined 8 of 27 from the field.
Mannion was 1 of 7 from 3, same as Dylan Smith, while Jemarl Baker Jr. was 1 of 8 from deep.
Despite shooting only 25.8 percent in the first half Arizona was only down 26-21. It made its first three shots of the second half but was called for six fouls in the first 5:01, exacerbating its short bench.
USC (20-9, 9-7) built a 41-32 lead with 11:55 left on a Daniel Utomi 3-pointer, but then the Trojans scored only six points over the next eight minutes as the Wildcats tried to chip away at the deficit.
A hook shot by Stone Gettings got Arizona within 47-44 with 3:53 left but then Jonah Mathews drained a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession. After that the Wildcats’ next eight possessions resulted in two Nnaji free throws, two turnovers and seven missed shots while USC went 7 of 8 from the line over the final two minutes.
Arizona’s best offensive stretch came before the first TV timeout. The Wildcats went on a 9-0 run after USC scored on the game’s opening possession but they managed only 12 points over the final 16:29 of the first half. They had scoring droughts of 5:26—during which USC went on an 11-0 run—and 6:28 yet somehow led 21-18 with 2:29 left before halftime.
USC, however, scored the final eight points before the break including Onyeka Okongwu’s 3-pointer from 75 feet away at the buzzer. It could have been a four-point play, as Smith appeared to undercut him as the shot went off.
Arizona will try to avoid its fifth sweep in LA on Saturday night when it visits the UCLA Bruins. The Wildcats lost 65-52 at home to UCLA on Feb. 8.