Arizona returns home Thursday to face USC on a night that will likely be remembered not for the action on the court so much as the jersey retirement of Jason Terry.
In what should surely be an emotional ceremony, Terry will become just the fifth Wildcat to have his jersey number sealed on the walls of the McKale Center.
The former National Player of the Year will also have a front row seat to the current group of Cats, who are hoping to repeat the type of success of Terry’s teams in the late 1990s.
Arizona is coming off a pair of dominating road wins against the Washington schools, and USC should provide fodder for another beatdown.
The Trojans currently sit dead-last in the Pac-12 conference standings with a 2-11 record. However, they are coming off a confidence-instilling 13 point home win over Oregon State.
Nonetheless, Arizona should have little trouble reaching the 80 point mark for the third game in a row. To say that USC lacks the skill and athleticism to stop the Wildcats’ starting five would be a giant understatement.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline will be whether Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can each add onto their offensive outbursts from the past road trip.
All three starters scored 17 points against Washington State, including a double-double from Hollis-Jefferson.
Arizona will also be helped out by the return of Dusan Ristic as well as Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The return of Jackson-Cartwright is particularly vital going into Saturday’s high-profile matchup with UCLA.
Without the freshman point guard, Elliott Pitts and Gabe York have had to play more minutes than usual, which can eventually wear down on two guys who aren’t used to being on the court for 25+ more minutes than usual.
That’s not to mention that neither possess the ball-handling skills nor all-around IQ of Jackson-Cartwright when running the floor.
Defensively, Arizona’s main emphasis will be slowing down USC’s young backcourt of Jordan McLaughlin and Katin Reinhardt.
Reinhardt, a former Arizona recruiting target, is tied for the team-high in scoring with 12.4 ppg. The 6’6 sophomore is easily the Trojans’ best threat from outside with a .386 three point percentage.
McLaughlin, meanwhile, is one of the more underrated freshmen in the conference, as he does a fine job distributing the ball and also averages 1.5 steals per game.
Outside of 6’11 center Nikola Jovanovic, there isn’t enough of a supporting cast to keep USC competitive on most nights.
The closest USC has come to playing a team of Arizona’s caliber is two games versus Utah. Both attempts ended in losses by more than 20 points.
It should be a similar story at McKale.