Sean Miller has won 300 games with the Arizona Wildcats, and maybe none has been as important to his future with the program.
Arizona led for the final 28-plus minutes, knocking off Pac-12 leader USC 81-72 on Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center in Los Angeles to snap the 17th-ranked Trojans’ seven-game win streak. It was the Wildcats’ first road victory over a ranked opponent (when not ranked itself) since knocking off Washington State in Pullman in 2008.
James Akinjo had 20 points and 7 assists, making up for an 0 for 9 shooting performance in the home loss to USC last month, while Azuolas Tubelis had 16 points and 15 rebounds and Jordan Brown added 19 and 13 off the bench. It was the first time Arizona had two players with double-doubles since Stone Gettings and Zeke Nnaji did it at Washington State last February.
The UA (15-8, 9-8 Pac-12) snapped a two-game skid and won for just the third time in eight games despite not making a field goal over the final 6:09, instead going 14 of 16 from the foul line. Akinjo was 7 of 8 during that span as the Wildcats were 15 of 19 from the line in the second half after attempting just four free throws in the first half.
Arizona led 37-31 at halftime but that edge was gone a few minutes later. Freshman Evan Mobley, the 7-foot projected lottery pick who only took two shots in the first half, scored USC’s first eight points including a 3-pointer to tie it at 39 with 17:14 left.
Mobley finished with 23 points, 19 in the second half.
A faster pace enabled the UA to go back in front and build a 57-49 lead with 12:06 left on consecutive 3s by Dalen Terry, who hadn’t made a triple since Jan. 30 and hadn’t had made two baskets in the previous five games.
The Wildcats were up 60-52 when a pivotal series that could have swung things USC’s way. Kerr Kriisa had a 3-pointer go in and out, then Christian Koloko walked after collecting the offensive rebound. On the ensuing possession Ira Lee fouled Isaiah Mobley in the act of shooting, and as the play ended Koloko shoved USC’s Chavez Goodwin to the ground and was hit with a contact technical foul.
Isaiah Mobley made his two free throws, but Noah Baumann missed the two technical shots. USC (18-4, 12-3) retained possession and got into the double bonus, making 1 of 2 free throws, to get within 60-55.
Yet Arizona didn’t fold, instead scoring 7 in a row with a Kriisa feeding Koloko in the pick-and-roll for a running one-handed dunk to go up 12 with 6:09 to go. The Wildcats then maintained at least an eight-point edge the rest of the way by nailing its free throws and taking care of the ball, committing only three turnovers in the final 22-plus minutes of play.
USC scored on its first three possessions, conjuring images of UCLA’s blistering 73 percent shooting in the second half on Thursday. But Arizona held the Trojans scoreless the next four minutes to take the lead and ended up holding it for most of the first half.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Akinjo and Tubelis put Arizona up 27-21 with 6:28 to go in the first half, then Jordan Brown’s layup on a feed from Akinjo gave the Wildcats a 33-25 edge with 3:59 remaining.
Miller’s 300th win came in his 408th game at Arizona, the third-fewest of any coach in Pac-10/12 history to get to 300 victories. Lute Olson and legendary Washington coach Hec Edmondson needed 395 games, while John Wooden needed 425.
Arizona returns home for its final weekend of play, hosting Washington State at 9 p.m. MST Thursday.