A cold start shooting from the field for USC could not be thawed out by a blazing scoring run in the second half in a 73-66 loss to Arizona on Thursday.
Despite finishing the game on a 32-17 run over the final 10 minutes of regulation and even pulling within a score of No. 14 Arizona with one minute remaining, USC fell prey to the Wildcats.
The Trojans (16-4, 3-4) dropped their second consecutive home game at the Galen Center and fell to a losing record in conference play at 3-4.
After shooting just 8-for-31 from the field in the first half, the Trojans finished the game by shooting 14-for-28 in the second half. With just over 11 minutes remaining in regulation, USC trailed Arizona (17-2, 6-0) by as many as 22-points.
A 28-11 scoring run from USC which spanned 10 minutes in the later stages of the second half pulled the Trojans frustratingly close of tying the score with the Wildcats late in regulation.
A pair of made free throws from redshirt sophomore guard Shaqquan Aaron pulled the game within one possession, 67-64, with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the following possession, Arizona freshman forward Lauri Markkanen — who recorded a game-high 23 points — took the ball up the floor and sunk a 3-point field goal that put the Wildcats ahead 70-64 with 39 seconds remaining in regulation.
“That was a huge shot, the shot clock was running down, we were playing great defense and we had all the momentum,” Enfield said. “It was just a back-breaker. It was a tough way to lose when they knock down a 30-footer at the end of shot clock.”
The late 3-pointer from Markkanen put an end to the Trojans’ comeback efforts and effectively put the game out of reach for USC.
“You never want to have to rely on a late last-minute run to win a game,” junior guard Elijah Stewart said. “We’ve just got to get off to a good start (in games) when it comes to certain assignments. Usually when you get that adrenaline towards the end of the game it helps you out.”
USC’s offensive barrage in the second half was a complete contradiction to the struggles which they dealt with offensively in the opening half.
As a team, the Trojans shot 1-for-10 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half. USC missed its first nine 3-point field goal attempts in the second half, and a 3-pointer from junior guard Elijah Stewart in the final minute of the first half was only the second 3-point make for USC of the game.
In the second half, USC shot 6-for-11 from beyond the arc as a team. After missing eight of its last nine field goal attempts to conclude the first half, USC found itself trailing by double-digits at halftime with a score of 29-19.
A 27-15 run from Arizona which spanned the opening five minutes of the second half preceded the Trojans’ comeback run late in the game.
Stewart was the leading scorer for the Trojans, scoring 15 of his 20 points against Arizona in the second half.
Clutch free-throw shooting from USC preserved and enhanced its comeback effort in the second half Thursday night.
After recently poor shooting performances from the free throw line in previous losses to Cal and Utah, the Trojans shot 15-of-18 from the stripe against the Wildcats.
Following the loss, the Trojans will now stay at the Galen Center to take on conference opponent Arizona State on Sunday. USC will seek a much-needed win over the Sun Devils to remain in the race for a strong finish in the Pac-12 standings.
“We’ve played well most of the season, but yes, there have been times we didn’t. We just need to keep getting better and staying confident,” Enfield said. “I hope our players realize that they can play with anyone on our schedule. They can beat really good teams like we already have this year … our staff has all the confidence in the world in these guys.”