The #1 Arizona Wildcats (17-0, 4-0) leaned on their experience as they outlasted a spirited USC Trojans (9-7, 0-3) 73-53 on Sunday night. Arizona received the Trojans’ best shot for a half, but eventually was able to settle down and turn things into a blowout. Although it was a 20-point win, the final score was not indicative of the type of game this was.
On T.J. McConnell-
There have been many discussions about what the chinks in Arizona’s armor may be, and a point that has been repeatedly brought up was whether or not McConnell could score the ball when defenses forced him to.
McConnell answered those critics emphatically Sunday night, dropping 19 points on 7-12 shooting (5-7 from three) to go along with his typical six assists. Arizona was able to withstand USC’s best punch in the first half thanks to McConnell, and once USC cooled off from the field in the second half, McConnell was able to distribute (often times in style) to put the Trojans away.
Perhaps my favorite part of seeing McConnell shoot the ball so well was the reaction it provoked after the game from Sean Miller. During one of the final timeouts, after another McConnell make, cameras panned to show the guard and head coach sharing a joyous hug. Miller has said himself that he is harder on T.J. than any other player, and seeing them embrace after such a performance was great television.
On withstanding USC’s run-
Although I realize there are no “easy” road games during conference play, you can count me among those who expected the Wildcats to lead wire to wire in this one. The fact that USC looked listless against ASU just days earlier led me to believe that Arizona was going to simply grind them down, but credit to USC for playing a very inspired game although the final score may not show it.
In the first half USC deployed a rather spirited zone defense, a move obviously used to counter Arizona’s interior strength and force Arizona to make perimeter shots. Going forward this is something we should probably expect to see on a regular basis, but thanks to McConnell’s outside stroke Arizona was able to keep pace. I also liked how Arizona continued to probe the zone defense to still try and get their interior guys touches, and in the second half the Cats eventually broke through and were able to get anything they wanted.
Much like the UCLA game down the stretch, Arizona seemed unfazed by USC during their stretch of solid play. Although Zona wasn’t as sharp as we all would like at times, I did like the fact that they were able to regroup and keep USC playing at their tempo, and ultimately this proved the difference in the second half as Arizona was able to string stops together on a consistent basis and push their lead.
On Kaleb Tarczewski-
Although his stat line doesn’t really jump off the page, I loved the job Zeus did on USC big man Omar Oraby. Oraby really caused teams problems down the stretch last year, and given how well USC was shooting from the perimeter in the first half it would have been a problem had Oraby been able to get going inside as well. Zeus continues to do a good job in neutralizing the opponent’s best big man, as well as occupying multiple people on the boards, leaving the rest of his teammates with unchallenged rebounds.
On Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-
Although he only contributed four points in this one, RHJ’s impact was felt in nearly every aspect of the game. On one particular possession late in the first half, with USC clearly in control of momentum, RHJ stretched out to save the ball near the baseline and directed it straight to a waiting Brandon Ashley for a layup. These are the type of plays that will never make headlines or highlight reels, but are necessary “winning plays” good teams need to win close games.
As I mentioned earlier in the year, RHJ’s effort and tenacity will always travel on the road, and to me that is more important than looking to light up the scoring column.
On Gabe York-
Here is hoping York’s foot injury heals quickly. He looked noticeably hobbled by it in the second half, and missed a few wide open looks he usually makes, maybe because he was compensating. Regardless, I liked his attacking mindset over the LA trip, and here is hoping to a speedy 100% recovery.
On the road trip-
It is a thing of beauty for a team that has struggled in the LA area in recent years to not only go in and sweep a weekend, but also nab 2015 Tyler Dorsey, a top-10 national recruit from the LA area in process. Arizona also looks to have caught UCLA at the right time, as I am sure they will progress leaps and bounds from now until the end of league play. Arizona will not face any of their first four Pac-12 opponents again during the regular season due to unbalanced scheduling.
On the Pac-12-
A very interesting weekend for the conference as a whole, especially for those picked to finish at the top behind Arizona.
Colorado faces the possibility of playing the remainder of the season without floor general Spencer Dinwiddie which is simply an awful break. Apparently people were complaining about the state of Washington’s court only minutes prior to Dinwiddie’s injury. Regardless, you have to feel for Colorado if Dinwiddie misses an extended period of time, as he is both a remarkable player and seems like a great leader.
Oregon, on the other hand, was the biggest surprise to me of the weekend. The Ducks lost both home games to Cal and Stanford and have now given up an average of 92+ points and 50%+ shooting in their last three games, all losses. While Cal and Stanford are certainly no pushovers, it comes as a surprise how easily they were able to generate offense against the Ducks given Oregon’s quickness and athleticism.
For what it is worth, I would not count Oregon out in the slightest, as Dana Altman has shown the ability to adjust on the fly and they are still trying to learn to play together given all their transfer situations. In my personal opinion, I still project Oregon as the second best Pac-12 team come March.