After a three game winning streak against below average Utah, subpar Washington and god awful Washington State, The #11 Arizona Wildcats (23-5, 11-5) were back in the hunt for a Pac-12 Championship and a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were beginning to feel like that 14-0 team that did so well earlier this season, confident they could beat UCLA in a hard fought game at Pauley Pavilion before heading back home for a final bout against ASU. Things were getting back on track.
What the Wildcats forgot, however, was the fact that their road trip consisted of two games this week. The USC Trojans, on the other hand, were well aware that there was a game on Wednesday night. With a 89-78 loss, Arizona’s hope for a Pac-12 Championship is shot in the dark (Oregon will not lose more than one game to Oregon State at home, Colorado and Utah on the road). The #2 seed is all but gone as well.
Simply put, Arizona came out flat and never rose to the occasion, expecting to play the team they destroyed earlier this season 74-50 and looking ahead to the Bruins. But the USC of late is a different team; since firing Kevin O’Neal, the Trojans have gone 6-5 can be much more explosive if you take them for granted. Arizona did jus that, allowing USC to shoot an absurd 61% from the field and 60% from long range. Despite coughing up 17 turnovers, the Trojans scored 89 points and won by a comfortable eleven. True, USC’s shooting was hot, but the amount of open and easy shots they had due to Arizona’s poor defense was embarrassing.
It is hard to admit, but Arizona was out-coached as well. This is the second time this season a team that has already seen the Wildcats have made mince meat out of Sean Miller’s one dimensional man-to-man defense (remember Colorado?), and the formula is quite simple: 1. If your guards are athletic, fairly easily dribble past Arizona’s guards and attack the basket, 2. Once this works, make an easy lay-up or, if another defender takes you on to replace the guard you just blew by, pass to the open player the defender had to leave to commit to you for an easy bucket, 3. Once you have a steady amount of that going on, Arizona will over-commit to the lanes and leave the three ball as open as shooting practice, and 4. Sean Miller will then resort to some zone, but only a minimal amount, and it will be ineffective anyway because Arizona hasn’t implemented a zone all year.
The scariest fact of all: UCLA has already seen Arizona, and they had Arizona figured out the first time.