The 14-5 Wildcats visit Los Angeles tonight to face the 10-8 USC Trojans. Arizona is 5-1 in league play and coming off a home split against the Oregon schools while USC is 3-2 and coming off a home win against cross town rival UCLA.
Offense: The Trojans are averaging 78 points per game this season and are led by 6’10” Bennie Boatwright and 6’11” Nick Rakocevic. Boatwright is averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds while Rakocevic is just shy of a double-double with 15 points and 9.7 rebounds. This is a team that can shoot the 3 as well. Jonah Mathews is shooting 40% from 3, as is Elijah Weaver off the bench. The 6’10” Boatwright is at 39% from 3 and Shaqquan Aaron and Kevin Porter Jr. both shoot right around 35%. USC has fairly good depth as well. They have 8 players averaging at least 20 minutes per game. 6’9″ J’Raan Brooks has been seeing some more minutes in conference play. Highly regarded Freshman Guard Kevin Porter Jr. has only played one game since early December due to injuries and conduct issues.
Arizona is averaging 74 points per game this season both in and out of league play. Since league play started the Cats are shooting 40% from 3 points range. Much of that has to do with the shooting improvement of Brandon Williams. In Pac12 play he is averaging 3.2 3-point attempts per game and making 47% of them. He has, lately, been a completely different shooter. In the 13 games outside of league play Williams was attempting 5.2 3-pointers per game and making only 27% of them.
Defense: USC will mainly play zone defense. It’s a zone that is very popular in the Pac12 this year. A 2-3 matchup zone that attempts to morph into whatever offense the opponent is running. But, like all 2-3 zones, the middle will be open for 15 foot jumpers and high-low action, as well some open looks for 3. The Trojans are 235th in the NCAA allowing 73.5 points per game.
Arizona remains one of the best defensive teams in the Pac12. They are 47th in the NCAA in points allowed per game (66 pts) and 2nd in the Pac12 (67 pts.). The Cats started out the year defending the 3 very well. Teams this year are only shooting 30% from beyond the arc against them, putting them at 36th in the NCAA. That has changed a little though for league play. Pac12 opponents are shooting 36% against them in 6 games. Arizona is 1st in the Pac12 in getting their opponents to turn the ball over with 15 per game.
This should be a fun game tonight as the Trojans are most likely gonna want to get out and run and put a lot of points up while the Cats will hope to keep this game in the 60’s or low 70’s. This has been yet another impressive season for Coach Sean Miller and perhaps his most challenging. For this team to be 14-5 with only 1 conference loss after all this program has been through over the last year shows the focus and determination of its leader. Miller is proving, once again, to the basketball world that he is one of the best coaches we have in college hoops.
In the previous game against Oregon St. Chase Jeter went out early with an injury. I had thought for much of the year that without Jeter this team would be in some trouble. They handled a much bigger Oregon St. team without their only real post threat just fine. Better than fine. Ryan Luther, Dylan Smith, and Ira Lee combined to pick up the slack. Luther had his season best in points and rebounds, 16 and 11. Smith got the most minutes he’s ever had as a Wildcat with 35. He also tied his season high of 13 points and added 6 rebounds. Lee didn’t make much of a dent on the stat sheet and finished with 4 fouls in 13 minutes but his energy and muscle add another dimension of physicality for Arizona.
This will be an interesting week of Pac12 play as teams start to distance themselves from one another. Washington sits at the top at 5-0 with the Arizona schools right behind them. This will be the only regular season conference meeting this year between the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools. Both USC and UCLA will be looking to make a statement and inch their way towards the top of the conference with a couple of home wins.