Following a home loss to No. 11 Oregon January 28, a game in which their 49-game home win streak came to an end, No. 17 Arizona looked nothing like a team capable of winning a third consecutive Pac-12 title. But at the time they were playing without the injured Allonzo Trier, and since that defeat the Wildcats have won five straight games. Their most recent result was an 86-78 home win over No. 23 USC Sunday night, a result that moved Sean Miller’s team into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with Oregon.
But while the game did show reasons why Arizona is more than capable of taking yet another Pac-12 title, it also showed the inconsistency that the Wildcats have fought to address throughout the season.
Arizona got off to a great start offensively against USC, getting just about whatever they wanted around the basket as they built a lead that reached 19 points late in the first half. Ryan Anderson made his first three shot attempts, with all three coming at the rim, and dribble penetration was working as well. But presented with the opportunity to land a decisive blow to start the second half, Arizona got complacent and that opened the door for a USC comeback.
The Wildcats settled for perimeter shots, and while some credit should be given to USC for their improved defense Arizona made things easier on the Trojans than they needed to be. Arizona has capable three-point shooters, with senior guard Gabe York being the best of the bunch. But when faced with a clear advantage on the offensive end of the floor they lost some discipline early in the second half, settling for contested looks as opposed to looking to the post feeds and dribble drives that were so successful at the game’s start.
“Coach always emphasizes that we get the ball inside early, try to get fouls on the other bigs, try to set the tone that way. For the most part, all year [the guards] have done a great job of starting the game that way,” Anderson said after the game. “And then once they start double-teaming, Parker, Gabe, Allonzo starting getting wide open shots and the game starts flowing for us. I thought that in the first half we were really flowing on offense and defense; we’ve just got to carry that over to the second half a lot better.”
USC managed to trim Arizona’s lead to two points but they were unable to get over the hump. Bennie Boatwright scored ten of his team-high 18 points in the second half, and both Jordan McLaughlin (11 second-half points) and Elijah Stewart (ten) were more productive in the second stanza as well. Arizona got back to attacking the paint offensively late, and with USC missing a couple opportunities to either tie the game or take the lead the Wildcats managed to put the game away.
York led four Wildcats in double figures with 17 points, and as a team Arizona shot 50 percent from the field and better than 56 percent inside of the arc on the night.
Arizona won’t get another shot at Oregon, but with five games remaining they’re in position to win another Pac-12 title. And as long as they look to take advantage of the areas in which they’re most successful, getting Anderson looks in the post and using dribble penetration from the likes of Trier, they’re more than capable of accomplishing that goal.
Arizona got away from that plan of attack early in the second half Sunday night, but managed to get back to what worked in closing the game out.