USC sinks 61 percent from field as Wildcats fall out of 1st-place tie
On StarNet: See more photos from the game at azstarnet.com/gallery
LOS ANGELES - Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller may not have been able to stop this one, but he sure saw it coming.
After five days of Miller noting that the No. 11 Wildcats aren't good enough offensively to "pick and choose" when they play defense, Arizona failed to defend well throughout an 89-78 at USC on Wednesday.
Depending on your viewpoint, there was a lack of effort, lack of toughness or lack of discipline - and, yes, some tough shots that USC simply hit - while the Wildcats allowed USC to shoot 61.1 percent.
"We're completely undisciplined," Miller said. "It's on me."
It was the Wildcats' fourth time in the past six games that they have let an opponent shoot 50 percent or more in a half - and this time they let USC top its 58.1 percent shooting in the first half with a 65.2 mark in the second.
All this, too, from a team that Miller, ironically, says has been his best defensive team at Arizona.
"This year we have improved," Miller said. "But recently, this is the worst defensive team I've ever coached."
What's more, the defensive slide is coming at the worst time of the season, a time when Miller says teams should "have their house in order" as they approach the postseason.
Instead, UA has lost three of its past six games and probably cost itself a chance at an outright Pac-12 title.
The loss dropped Arizona to 23-5 overall and 11-5 in the Pac-12, where the Wildcats fell a game behind first-place Oregon in the loss column. USC improved to 13-15 and 8-7.
"Now it's out of our hands," said UA forward Solomon Hill, who led the Wildcats with 21 points.
All three of UA's seniors made demonstrable efforts to give themselves a shot at cutting down the nets on Senior Day at McKale on March 9, a task that would likely have required them to win all three of their final regular-season games.
While Hill had 21 points with three rebounds, six assists and five steals, Kevin Parrom had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting and Mark Lyons added 14 points the hard way.
Lyons needed 12 of 16 free-throw shooting to get his points, going 1 for 9 from the field but aggressively driving inside often to gain fouls.
For USC, Eric Wise led USC with 22 points while Byron Wesley had 18.
Seven-footers Omar Oraby of USC and Kaleb Tarczewski of UA both fouled out late in the second half. When Tarczewski left with 3:50 left, USC was ahead 75-68 .
Oraby earlier left the game with four points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
Despite rallying late in the first half to cut USC's lead to just six points at halftime, Arizona struggled early in the second half. USC took leads of 51-38 and 60-50 before the Wildcats climbed back within four points thanks to threes by Parrom and Jordin Mayes.
But UA never came any closer. While the Wildcats arguably played better defense in the second half, USC hit some tough shots possibly, Hill said, because they gained confidence from a first half when UA allowed them to score at will sometimes.
"Once a couple of guys get going, they feel any shot is going in," Hill said. "People always say, 'They won't hit those shots in the second half,' but they didn't stop making them."
In the first half, Arizona's defense allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent or better in a half for the fourth time in the past six games, a trend that cost them games at Colorado and against California at home.
"Our goal was to start out strong," USC interim coach Bob Cantu said. "We attacked the basket and got high percentage shots."
The Wildcats defense did wake up just before the end of the half, however, cutting USC's lead from double digits to just six points thanks to two late steals by Hill and a block by Parrom.
Hill went coast to coast after one of his steals, cutting USC's lead to 42-35 while Lyons drove inside with 3.6 seconds left, drew a foul and made one of two free throws.
Lyons missed all three three-pointers he took in the first half, but he drove inside repeatedly and drew fouls. Ultimately, though, he made just 5 of 9 free throws in the half.
Hill led both teams in scoring in the first half with 12 points while Wise had 11 for USC and Wesley added 10. Wesley, who entered the game as the leading three-point percentage shooter in Pac-12 games (48.3 percent), hit both three-pointers he took while Jio Fontan was 2 for 3.
Arizona stayed with the Trojans early, leading 11-10 after the first five minutes but USC went on a 16-4 run in the middle of the first half to take a 30-22 lead. At that point, the Trojans were shooting 61.9 percent from the field.
Arizona now will have two days in Los Angeles to prepare for a Saturday game against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.
Miller can only hope something changes before then.
"Sometimes lessons like this can only spur a team on and I hope that's the case for us," Miller said. "We have some of the most meaningful games in the college basketball season on the horizon, and tonight I hope is a meaningful lesson for us to bounce back and move forward."
• Who: No. 11 Arizona at UCLA
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM