Arizona was without the services of Josh Green (back) and Max Hazzard (personal reasons) and dropped to 19-9 overall and 9-6 in Pac-12 play with the loss.
The defeat also all but ended any chance the Wildcats had of winning the league title, while also seriously hurting their prospects of receiving a bye in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament.
None of the Wildcats really played well on offense against USC, but Arizona’s best player this season persevered through his team’s cold front to notch his conference-best 13th double-double of the year.
Nnaji finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds against USC, leading Arizona in both categories.
Considering that Nico Mannion was just 3 of 14 from the field, Dylan Smith 1 of 9 and Jemarl Baker Jr. 2 of 9, the ball probably should have been worked inside to Nnaji more often, particularly early in the game when he took just four shots in the first half.
It was a bad loss all around, but Zeke doesn’t deserve to shoulder much of the blame.
This was really the one area of the game where Arizona was superior to USC.
The Cats out rebounded the Trojans 38-32 overall and 14-4 on the offensive glass, outscoring SC in second chance points 11-2 as well.
It ultimately wasn’t enough to get what was honestly a must-win, but if there was one thing that the UA did well in what was otherwise an ugly loss, it was hit the boards.
After the game, Miller agreed with that sentiment.
“Rebounding was a real key for us in this game, and we did a great job,” the Wildcats’ head coach said. “We just couldn’t make a shot.”
It won’t be remembered, simply because of how poor the Cats were on offense, but Arizona actually played alright on defense Thursday night.
The Trojans shot 42 percent, but the Wildcats limited SC to just 30 percent shooting from 3 and importantly forced 15 turnovers as well.
Despite how poor Arizona was on offense, the UA remained within striking distance until pretty much the end of the game.
Granted, that might have had more to do with the Trojans’ own problems than Arizona’s defense — but considering the Wildcats’ offensive woes, they really should have been blown out.
Yes, it was shorthanded, but once again Arizona had an awful shooting night on Thursday against USC.
The Wildcats shot just 25 percent from the field against the Trojans and were an abysmal 3 of 26 from 3.
Without Green, the Cats struggled to get in transition—they finished with just six fast break points—and struggled to get good looks in the half court.
In the end, it was one of Arizona’s worst offensive performances of the Miller Era and afterwards the coach lamented the fact that his team just couldn’t get anything going.
“You’re not gonna win when you shoot 28 percent, 11 percent from 3 and have 15 turnovers,” he said. “For the most part, 25, 30 minutes, our defense was clearly good enough to win the game, we just didn’t have any offense.”
There’s only three games left in the season, and I think at this point it’s fair to say that this team just isn’t that good at running a half-court offense.
Without both Green and Hazzard the Wildcats struggled mightily to get anything going against USC.
Playing basically a six-man rotation, the UA simply didn’t get significant offensive contributions from enough guys and they ended up scoring a measly 48 points — its lowest point total in a game this season.
Ira Lee finished with six points after being inserted to the starting lineup, but only Nnaji (15) and Mannion (11) were the other Wildcats to score more then five points.
Stone Gettings had a quiet night, finishing with just four points on 2 of-5 shooting in 34 minutes of action.
After the game, Miller said that he thought his team felt Green and Hazzard’s absence down particularly the stretch in the second half.
“Playing without Josh and Max, I mean we’re down to just a couple guards and I thought we wore down as the game went on,” he said. “The guards who played, obviously they played their hearts out, but we had a another historic tough night shooting the ball.”
Green did not travel with the team so obviously won’t play against UCLA on Saturday, while Miller couldn’t say whether or not Hazzard would be available against the Bruins.
With Green and Hazzard both out, Arizona absolutely needed its most coveted recruit to have a big game if they were going to get a dub against the Trojans.
But with NBA scouts all over the arena, Mannion struggled mightily, posting 11 points and going 3 of 14 from the field and 1 of 7 from 3 in the loss.
He tried to shoot himself out of the slump in the second half — taking some seriously questionable shots in the process — but they just wouldn’t fall for him.
The freshman didn’t distribute the ball well either Thursday night, finishing with two assists and two turnovers.
There is no doubt that he is obviously a very skilled player — which is why he has been rated so highly in NBA circles — but with three games left in the season, I think it’s safe to say he’s at least been somewhat underwhelming at Arizona. To this point, that is.
Both the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments are still looming, so Nico certainly still has a chance to flip the script, but it’s hard to imagine that his draft stock isn’t falling right now.
His stock with Arizona fans certainly has.