USC men’s basketball can’t keep up with Wildcats in Tucson

After remaining within striking distance for the majority of the contest, USC had no answer for No. 4 Arizona’s big scoring run midway through the second half. The Wildcats hit seven consecutive shots in the last three minutes of the final period to blow the game wide open.   

Arizona’s second-half scoring kick was too much for the Trojans to handle, as USC (21-7, 8-7) dropped its third consecutive conference game in a 90-77 loss at the McKale Center on Thursday night.

“We got better this week. We played hard tonight,” head coach Andy Enfield said to the media. “We played well enough offensively we just could not stop them down in the second half.”

A 3-point field goal from sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright pulled the Trojans within a 51-49 deficit of the Wildcats with over 15 minutes remaining in the game.

Arizona (26-3, 15-1) responded with a 20-6 scoring run over the next five minutes of play. The Wildcats extended their lead over USC to 71-55 with 9:36 remaining in the second half.

A 3-point shot from junior Arizona guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright gave the Wildcats their largest lead of the night at 78-62 with just over five minutes to play.

“They got rolling on offense,” Enfield said. “It’s hard to guard Arizona when they’re shooting the ball at that level. I give Arizona credit. They really played well on offense [and] shot the ball well.”

As a team, Arizona finished Thursday night shooting 11-for-20 (55 percent) from beyond the arc. Overall, the Wildcats shot 32-for-63 (51 percent) from the field against the Trojans.

Wildcats sophomore guard Allonzo Trier, who finished with a game-high 25 points, hit a 3-point basket at the buzzer to give Arizona a 44-39 halftime lead against the Trojans.

Over the final 6:28 of the first half, Arizona shot 10-of-13 (76.9 percent) from the floor. The Wildcats were able to convert on four 3-point field goals in the final 2:30 of the first half.

“Arizona did a great job of closing out in the first half,” Enfield said. “They played some great defense against us, too.”

The Trojans attempted to mount a comeback late in regulation, pulling within an 80-73 deficit on a pair of Boatwright field goals with under two minutes left in the game.

USC had a 20-6 run of its own early on in the first half. With six minutes remaining before the half, the Trojans held a 28-19 lead over Arizona.

USC finished the game by missing six of its final eight shots taken in regulation, putting the nail in the road loss.

The Trojans suffered a double-digit loss at Arizona’s hands despite shooting 27-for-51 (53 percent) from the field.

USC’s game against Arizona was its third consecutive game against a team ranked in the top six nationally. The Trojans are the only team in the nation this season to go through a three-game stretch in which they played three top-six ranked teams. The Trojans dropped all three of these contests by double digits.

Boatwright led the way for USC offensively, recording a team-high 23 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the floor. He also finished the game shooting 8-for-8 from the free throw line.

The Trojans committed 14 combined turnovers as a team. Arizona capitalized on USC’s offensive lapses, outscoring the Trojans 23-9 on points off of turnovers.

USC sophomore forward Chimezie Metu recorded his fifth double-double of the season against Arizona (15 points, 12 rebounds).

Boatwright and Metu were two of USC’s four double-digit scorers on Thursday. Junior guard Elijah Stewart and freshman guard De’Anthony Melton finished with 13 and 10 points scored, respectively. Melton also recorded a team-high four assists against the Wildcats.

After completing a dunk with 13:21 minutes left in the second half, Metu landed awkwardly and appeared to suffer a minor ankle injury that forced him to leave the game. After taking a quick trip to the locker room, Metu made a prompt return to the floor to play. He scored nine points after returning to the game with 12 minutes left in play.

USC will remain in the desert for its final road game of the season against Arizona State (13-15, 6-9) on Sunday. The Trojans will look to avoid their fourth consecutive loss in conference play.