Instant Analysis: Arizona hangs on for 85-80 win over USC
Arizona came awfully close to blowing its second 20-point lead of the season Thursday night in Tucson. Instead, the Wildcats hung on this time, getting two free throws from Nico Mannion in the closing seconds to defeat the visiting Trojans 85-80. Notably, the win marked Sean Miller’s 400 career win as a head coach.
Arizona (16-6, 6-3 Pac-12) led by 10 points at halftime and jumped out to a 63-43 lead early in the second half. However, USC would rally and close to within three points with less than five seconds to play. The Trojans held the Wildcats scoreless from the field for the final 8:20 in regulation, and watched as Arizona missed no fewer than 10 free throws in the second half to keep the home crowd on the edge of its seat. Mannion, who had already missed six free throw tries in his first 16 attempts, was clutch in sinking his final two to cap the much-needed home victory and extend Arizona’s conference winning streak to three games.
USC (17-6, 6-4 Pac-12) was led by Onyeka Okongwu. The standout freshmen scored a game-high 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He added eight rebounds. Daniel Utomi was efficient from the floor (7-of-10 FG) to finish with 22 points. Nick Rakocevic, who did not start for violating team rules, finished with 18 points. The Wildcats countered with five players scoring in double figures, including Ira Lee’s 10 points off the bench. Mannion led the Wildcats with 20 points and seven assists. Josh Green broke out of his recent scoring slump to score 18. Zeke Nnaji, playing in front of his parents, finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Stone Gettings added 12 points and eight rebounds, extending his streak of scoring in double figures to three games.
Both teams were shooting above 60 percent from the floor with 10 minutes remaining. However, the Wildcats would cool off, significantly, and finish the night 26-for-57 (45.6%) from the floor. The Trojans made 16-of-30 field goal attempts after halftime and would finish the game shooting 50 percent.
USC’s Okongwu was impressive. Arizona really had no answer for the freshman big man. Okongwu’s counterpart, Zeke Nnaji, was equally impressive. After a quiet first half, Nnaji scored 12 points after intermission to finish with a double-double.
Josh Green was a big factor in Arizona jumping out to a 20-point lead. Offensively, Green found his outside shot while showcasing his athleticism on a variety of slam dunks. Most impressive was Green’s defense on the perimeter. Green hassled USC’s Jonah Matthews to a 2-for-10 shooting night. For USC, Daniel Utomi finished with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting, which included four 3-Point makes.
How Arizona Won?
Arizona played near flawless basketball to build a 63-43 lead with 13 minutes remaining. However, just like in their shocking loss to Arizona State where the Wildcats blew a 22-point lead, the Wildcats started getting very sloppy on both ends of the floor. Wild, unnecessary shots early in the shot clock seemed to take over, helping the Trojans begin to chip away. Those wild shots soon turned into good shot attempts that were also missed as USC continued to chip away. Worrisome, is the fact that Arizona not only went cold from the floor, but also the foul line late, which allowed USC to actually get to within three points in the closing seconds.
Still, despite the game’s final 10-plus minutes, overall, Arizona did build a large enough lead to hang on and win. At its high point, Arizona owned a plus-10 rebounding advantage and was winning the hustle plays. Arizona did an excellent job in getting the ball inside to Nnaji, Gettings, and Lee, and forced an up tempo game. Similarly, despite his uncharacteristic struggles from the foul line, Mannion was characteristically clutch in sinking two free throws when the team absolutely needed them most.
A large factor in USC’s resurgence and near comeback victory was the play of its bench. The Trojans bench outscored Arizona’s 25-12. The Trojans also finished the game only four rebounds short of the Wildcats (36-32) after getting pretty much dominated on the boards for the first 33 minutes of action.
Working for Arizona was its ability to protect the basketball. Arizona only committed six turnovers. Additionally, the Wildcats attempted 40 free throws, while USC only attempted 24. Granted, Arizona had a rough night from the foul line (28-for-40), but ended up gaining a 10-point scoring advantage from the charity stripe.
Player of the Game
The four best players on the floor tonight were USC’s Okongwu and Utomi, and Arizona’s Nnaji and Green.
Stat of the Game
The drop off in bench production for the Wildcats was troublesome. Max Hazzard was scoreless in only eight minutes of action. Jemarl Baker did finish with three rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers, but was just 1-for-5 shooting. Christian Koloko only played two minutes. Conversely, USC’s bench gave the Trojans the spark it needed to trigger its second half rally and get back into the game.
The UCLA Bruins visit Arizona on Thursday, February 8 in Tucson. Tip time is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on ESPN 2.