-- BREAKING IT DOWN --
Key moment(s): Closing It Out. When you are the No. 1 team in the land, you are going to get every opponent's best shot. Teams may hang around for awhile, feeding off the atmosphere and adrenaline, but a truly dominant squad will be able to put them away in the end. That's exactly what Arizona did to the Trojans Sunday night. The Wildcats made an 11-0 run near the end of the first half and then finished off USC the last five minutes of the game with an 18-4 run that ballooned their lead all the way up to 22 points.
Zone Buster. USC head coach Andy Enfield said the Trojans wanted to keep Arizona out of the paint, so they employed a 2-3 zone for the majority of the game. The plan worked as USC outscored the Wildcats 40-26 in the paint. However, T.J. McConnell provided an unexpected barrage of 3-pointers. Despite not having made a 3-pointer in nearly a month with his last make coming against Michigan on Dec. 14, McConnell knocked down five, including a perfect 3-for-3 in the first half.
Player of the Game: Byron Wesley. Byron Wesley continues to be a consistent contributor for the Trojans. The 6'5" slashing junior finished with a team-high 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting. He also grabbed a team-high six boards , had two assists, two steals and made all of four of his free throws. Now he just needs someone to step up and produce alongside him.
Most Spectacular Play(s): Going EuroStepping. J.T. Terrell only had two points in the game, but his single bucket got some of the loudest cheers of the night and gave USC a four-point lead -- its biggest of the game. Arizona's Brandon Ashley tried to post up Byron Wesley, but Wesley poked the ball away from behind, knocking it right into the arms of Terrell, who led the break coming up the left side of the court. McConnell got between him and the basket and established position to take a charge, but Terrell stepped through and laid in a nifty finger roll.
Beat the Buzzer. The Trojans trailed by only three points at halftime because their defense got them four points in the final 20 seconds of the first half. Julian Jacobs stripped McConnell and went the distance and then caused a second turnover, poking the ball away. Omar Oraby picked up the loose ball and pushed it ahead to Jacobs at midcourt, who fired it forward to Pe'Shon Howard on the left wing. With the clock winding down, Howard went with an up-and-under reverse layup. He spun it off the backboard and it splashed through the net as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Unsung Hero: Strahinja Gavrilovic. Strahinja "Luis" Gavrilovic was the only Trojan other than Wesley in double figures. He played a career-high 19 minutes and scored a career-high 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting. After the game, Enfield praised Gavrilovic's work ethic and tenacity saying he plays the hardest of anyone on the team.
Here are Luis Gavrilovic and Pe'Shon Howard talking about the disappointing finish:
"Step It Up:" Senior Leadership Needed. Coming into the season, Andy Enfield spoke strongly about USC's senior leadership core with Omar Oraby, D.J. Haley, Pe'Shon Howard and J.T. Terrell all having played in big games and on big stages at previous stops at Rice, Virginia Commonwealth, Maryland and Wake Forest. But on Sunday night, the quartet had almost as many turnovers as points. They combined for seven turnovers and only eight points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Haley only played two minutes while Terrell played only four minutes in the second half due to foul trouble and poor shot selection. Oraby didn't score his first (and only) points until there were just over three minutes left in the game.
USC has to have someone in this group step up and take on a bigger offensive role to help out Wesley. Oraby was averaging 13.6 points per game through the first five games, but has scored double digits only once since. Terrell has been hit or miss in the five games he has played in since returning from being academically ineligible. Howard has scored a combined 13 points the last four games after he had been averaging 15.4 points in the seven games prior.
Key stat(s): 5-for-7. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell is known as a pass-first point guard. He entered the game having shot 8-of-30 from behind the three-point line this season for Arizona, but with USC playing a 2-3 zone, McConnell stepped up and knocked down five 3-pointers. He scored 19 points -- his Arizona career high -- while also dishing out six assists, grabbing four rebounds and collecting two steals.
8. After attempting 85 free throws in its last three contests, USC only made it to the free throw line for eight attempts. It was the Trojans first time without double-digit attempts. The Trojans' previous season low was 15 against West Alabama.
12. USC turned the ball over six times in the first half, which is right around an acceptable number, according to Enfield. But in the second half, Arizona ratcheted up its defense and put the pressure on USC. The Trojans turned the ball over 12 times after the break, including four times during the Wildcats' 18-4 final push.
Quote of the Night:
"We turned the ball over too many times. We had some easy transition opportunities where we didn't convert. We missed a couple of layups. Against such a good defensive team as Arizona, you need to score those easy baskets when you have a chance." -- USC head coach Andy Enfield
Sideline Moves: Enfield has slowly been shrinking his bench rotation. At the beginning of the season, he was giving significant minutes to 10-11 players. But against Arizona, that rotation was down to seven players. Only Terrell and Gavrilovic saw double-digit minutes off the bench with no one else playing more than two minutes. Haley played two minutes early in the first half, but never re-entered the game (possibly due to a minor injury?).
Sophomore reserve point guard Chass Bryan did not play for only the second time this season while freshman forward Roschon Prince took his first DNP of the season. Sophomore guard Brendyn Taylor didn't play for the fifth time this season while freshman Khalil Dukes, who had played the least minutes of any eligible scholarship player coming into the game, received two minutes in the first half.
What was the difference for Gavrilovic to get minutes?
"When a guy plays that hard, he's got to be on the court," Enfield said.
Where They Stand: USC has some work to do if it wants a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans are now 0-3 in Pac-12 play and face a daunting road trip to Utah and Colorado -- a trip that got head coach Kevin O'Neill fired last year after USC split. Utah is 12-1 at home while No. 21 Colorado is 11-1.
The Trojans need at least a split and then need to come back and protect home court against the NorCal schools. If they get swept this weekend and fall to 0-5 in conference play, the Trojans can all but kiss goodbye to any NCAA Tournament chances because USC would likely need to finish 10-3 and get above .500 in conference play.
Spotted: The Arizona fanbase always travels well to USC, but there were a number of former Trojans and Wildcats in attendance Sunday night. Sitting in the same section were Los Angeles Lakers Nick Young (USC) and Jordan Hill (Arizona). They were joined by Luke Walton (Arizona) and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart (USC). Another former Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, Calif.) quarterback in the crowd was Max Wittek.
Also cheering on the Trojans Sunday night was former guard Donte Smith, who was a member of the 2010-2011 team that made USC's last trip NCAA Tournament appearance and who memorably knocked down eight 3-pointers in a 24-point outburst against Cal in 2011. Smith was taking in the game with his two children and said he is working to soon become a police officer.
Highlights: Here are some highlights from the game, courtesy of @USC_Hoops: