If history somehow repeats itself, then spectators at the Galen Center Thursday night for the USC-Arizona matchup could wind up being in the arena much longer than the average two-hour duration of a college basketball game.
USC and Arizona split their regular season series against one another in the 2016 season. Their first matchup turned out to be an instant classic. In a thriller that saw the Trojans and Wildcats battle through four overtime periods, USC came away with an exhausting 103-101 victory over then-No. 7 ranked Arizona at the Galen Center. When USC traveled to Arizona later that season, the Trojans fell by a score of 86-78.
Now looking to this season, No. 14 Arizona (16-2) has gotten off to a strong start in conference play, winning its first five Pac-12 matchups by an average victory margin of 15 PPG. The Wildcats are currently tied for first in the Pac-12 standings with No. 11 Oregon with a 5-0 conference record.
When Arizona enters the Galen Center on Thursday night, it will be a team which has won 10 consecutive games as it takes on the Trojans. The Wildcats’ only two losses on the season came to top-15 ranked opponents in No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 13 Butler.
After stumbling to a 2-3 start in Pac-12 play this season, USC (16-3, 3-3 in conference) picked up a much-needed conference victory over Colorado Jan. 15. Sophomore forward Chimezie Metu scored a career-high 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting Sunday as the Trojans topped the Buffaloes on the road, 71-68. Metu scored 20 of his 24 points against Colorado in the first half of the game.
In total, Arizona has five players averaging at least 10 PPG entering Thursday’s game against USC, including freshman forward Lauri Markkanen. Averaging a team-high 16.7 PPG, Markkanen has been an offensive spark for the Wildcats in his first season.
USC’s contest with Arizona on Thursday will be the second occasion in which the Trojans play a top-25 ranked opponent this season. The team lost its only other game against a ranked opponent this season on Dec. 30 when it fell to Oregon on the road, 84-61.
The Wildcats will contest Trojan scorers with a stingy defense that ranks 12th nationally in points allowed per game (61.6 PPG). The Galen Center has been a solid home for USC thus far, earning the Trojans a 9-1 overall record when playing in their home arena this season.
As a result of losing three of its last five games, USC is now unranked for the first time since Dec. 15. With a 3-3 record through the first six games of conference play, the Trojans currently find themselves in sixth place in the Pac-12 standings.
A win over the No. 14-ranked Wildcats Thursday could propel USC back into the NCAA top 25 rankings and would help USC’s cause for a high finish in the final Pac-12 standings this season. Meanwhile, a loss to Arizona would put the Trojans at sub-.500 in conference play and drop them to the lower-half of the Pac-12 standings.