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Arizona men’s basketball blows out USC on road to clinch Pac-12 title

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-recap-usc-trojans-pac12-title-mathurin-kriisa-tommy-lloyd-2022 Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Now that is how you respond to adversity.

Coming off its worst performance of the season, and with its hold on a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Arizona didn’t let a second chance to lock up the Pac-12 regular-season title get away from it.

The Wildcats came out guns blazing at USC, building a double-digit lead less than seven minutes into the game and adding to it between every media break on their way to a dominant 91-71 win over the 16th-ranked Trojans on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The win gives No. 2 Arizona (26-3, 16-2) its first Pac-12 title since 2018, and with it the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tourney in Las Vegas.

Arizona shot 55.6 percent for the game, hitting more than 55 percent of its shots in each half, and drained 12 of 25 3-pointers. Bennedict Mathurin had 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting with three 3s, adding five rebounds and a career-high six assists, Kerr Kriisa scored 18 with four 3s, and Justin Kier (12), Oumar Ballo (11) and Dalen Terry (11) also scored in double figures.

The UA, which was outscored 54-26 in the paint by Colorado in Saturday’s 79-63 loss, had a 44-40 edge in paint points on the Trojans (25-5, 14-5) despite Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis dealing with early trouble that limited them to a combined 15 points and only 10 field goal attempts. The Wildcats made up for that by turning it over just seven times, their second-lowest tally of the season, while converting 12 USC turnovers into 19 points.

USC 39.7 percent, made only 4 of 18 3s and saw reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Drew Peterson manage only 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting including 0 of 6 from 3-point range. In two games against Arizona, Peterson is 3 of 24 from the field and 0 for 12 from deep.

Arizona led 51-27 at the half, but rather than falter coming out of the locker room like it did in the second half of the Colorado game, the Wildcats kept their foot on the gas. USC got within 22 with 17:45 remaining but then Kriisa and Mathurin drained triples on consecutive possessions and by the first TV timeout the lead was over 30.

USC used a 15-3 run to get within 80-64 with 4:38 left, but then Koloko hit a jumper and blocked a shot on the other end to set up a Terry 3 and get the lead back over 20.

The UA started 7 of 10 from the field and made 12 of its first 17 shots, leading 27-11 with 10:08 remaining in the first half. A 7-0 USC run cut the lead to nine with 8:08 left before halftime, but then Kriisa hit back-to-back threes and the margin never got closer than 12.

An 18-4 run late in the first half put Arizona up 26, taking a 24-point lead into halftime despite not attempting a free throw in the opening 20 minutes.

Arizona returns home for the final weekend of the regular season, hosting Stanford (15-13, 8-10) on Thursday. The Wildcats won 85-57 in Palo Alto in mid-January.