In February 2009, three of the nation’s top prospects — guard Lamont Jones (Harlem, N.Y.) and forwards Solomon Hill (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Derrick Williams (La Mirada, Calif.), — had signed their letters of intent to play for USC under then-coach Tim Floyd.
An NCAA investigation and a coaching departure later, all three recruits had bolted for greener pastures in Tucson, Ariz., a move that finally came full circle Saturday night at the McKale Center.
Attempting to win their second-straight conference game for just the second time this season, the Trojans (12-10, 4-5) were victimized time and time again by their former recruits, as Arizona (18-4, 7-2) cruised to an easy 82-73 victory.
Williams, the front-runner to win the Pac-10 Player of the Year award, led Arizona in scoring with 20 points, despite playing with injured right pinkie finger. He was flawless from the field, hitting all six of his field goal attempts, including three from beyond the three-point arc.
While Williams served as an offensive catalyst in the second half, Jones was the primary difference-maker when the Wildcats made their game-changing run toward the latter part of the first half.
With nine minutes to go in the half, USC trailed 18-16, but two uncontested drives to the basket and a late three-point basket by Jones capped a 22-15 scoring spurt to end the half, and gave Arizona some much needed breathing room.
In the opening minutes of the second half, USC gave up an early 8-2 run and never saw the deficit drop below nine points the rest of the way.
Junior forward Nikola Vucevic led the Trojans in scoring for the second consecutive night, with 20 points and seven rebounds.
“I felt like we all played like women,” a visibly frustrated Vucevic told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play hard. Every single one of us just played like women.”
Senior guard Donte Smith also added 14 points off the bench, but his offensive spark went largely overlooked.
Although USC was able to cut the Wildcats’ lead to single digits in the final seconds, what they weren’t able to erase is more telling.
On top of the season-high 82 points the Trojans surrendered Saturday night, they also allowed Arizona to shoot a staggering 61 percent from the field, along with 35 bench points.
In addition, USC entered the McKale Center giving up an average of almost seven three-point baskets per game during its nine losses this season.
Against the Wildcats, the Trojans gave up 10 field goals from beyond the three-point line — six of which came during the team’s feeble comeback attempt in the second half.
“We beat Arizona State, and we thought we were a great team and could beat anybody,” Vucevic said. “It happens every time we get a big win. It’s got to stop.”
There will be little rest for the weary, as USC coach Kevin O’Neill’s squad travels across town Wednesday night to face the UCLA Bruins (14-7, 6-3) at 8 p.m.
The Trojans have already beaten the Bruins this season, winning 63-52 at the Galen Center Jan. 9.
O’Neill is currently undefeated against UCLA (3-0) in his two seasons at the helm of the Trojans’ bench. The team’s last loss against UCLA came during a 76-60 defeat at Pauley Pavilion in February 2009.