Looking to earn its first Pac-12 win of the season and rebound from its first home loss of the year, the USC men’s basketball team hosted No. 1 Arizona at the Galen Center Sunday night. Though the Trojans fought hard throughout to keep the game from getting away from them, the Wildcats emerged with a 73-53 victory.
Junior guard Byron Wesley led the Trojans with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Sophomore forward Strahinja Gavrilovic was the only other Trojan in double digits with 10 points, while freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic added eight points and four rebounds. Freshman guard Julian Jacobs finished with nine points, four steals and four assists.
“The feeling was great, playing hard against these guys,” Gavrilovic said about his increased role. “They probably have two or three players that will go to the NBA next year, so playing against them is a really good opportunity and a really good feeling.”
Arizona guard T.J. McConnell finished with 19 points, shooting 5-of-7 from behind the arc, with six assists and four rebounds. Forward Brandon Ashley also added 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, four assists and two rebounds. Highly touted freshman forward Aaron Gordon added 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting and eight rebounds, while guard Nick Johnson had 15 points and five steals.
The stands were filled with fans from both sides to see if the Wildcats could get off to their best start in school history, or if the Trojans could shock the nation for their first conference win under head coach Andy Enfield. Lakers guard Nick Young and former NFL quarterback Matt Leinart were in attendance to cheer on the Trojans, while Lakers forward Jordan Hill and former Lakers forward Luke Walton were present to cheer on Arizona.
“I thought we were on our way,” Enfield said. “We had a great practice yesterday and I thought we played really hard today, so that’s a start. Our guards have to do a much better job of executing and making the right pass at the right time. Eighteen turnovers is too many.”
The Trojans gave their fans plenty to cheer about as they kept within striking range of the top team in the nation early and took a 21-18 lead with 8:27 left in the first half.
The Trojans expanded their lead to 27-23, but an 11-4 run to close out the half gave Arizona the 34-31 lead entering halftime. Both teams shot 13-of-30 from the field, and 40 percent from behind the arc. The Wildcats outrebounded the Trojans 18-15 and committed five turnovers to USC’s six.
The second half started where the first half ended, as the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run in the first 4:50. After building their lead to as many as 11, the Trojans began to fight back, cutting the deficit to as few as five points. A couple days after blowing a 13-point lead to UCLA and holding on to win, the Wildcats weren’t about to let the same thing happen twice in one weekend.
USC ran into problems with turnovers, committing 10 in the second half alone to give the Trojans a total of 18 for the game. Arizona finished the game on a 25-10 run to keep the Trojans at the bottom of the Pac-12.
“If we play defense like that in every game, we’ll be in every game in the Pac-12 for sure,” said senior guard Pe’Shon Howard, who finished with four points and five assists. “We just got to make plays at the end of the game and do better on offense and take care of the ball.”