No. 2 Arizona visits No. 16 Southern Cal with Pac-12 title in reach
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No. 2 Arizona will try to clinch the Pac-12 regular-season title when it takes on the league's second-place team, No. 16 Southern California, on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
The Wildcats (25-3, 15-2 Pac-12) also are trying to solidify a top seed in the NCAA Tournament against what figures to be their toughest remaining regular-season opponent. Arizona finishes at home against Stanford and Cal later in the week.
The Trojans (25-4, 14-4) have won six consecutive games following a 72-63 loss at Arizona on Feb. 5 and are making a habit of winning close contests, including a 70-69 victory at Oregon on Saturday. Four of their past five victories -- UCLA, Washington State, Oregon State (in double overtime) and Oregon -- came by a total of nine points.
The Wildcats are coming off Saturday's 79-63 loss at Colorado in which they were uncharacteristically out-performed down low; the Buffaloes had a 54-26 advantage in points in the paint. That sets up a key talking point for the USC game in a matchup of two of the tallest teams in the nation.
"They were way more physical than us," Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said of Colorado. "They got the game on their terms once they got the lead in the second half and were kind of able to control the tempo and everything.
"I'm just chalking it up to that we got beat by a better team. Probably wanted it a little bit more than we did and played a little harder."
Arizona had the advantage down low in the first meeting against USC, with a plus-5 rebounding edge and 14 more points in the paint. But the Trojans did pull down 19 offensive boards, which helped them have a six-point lead with 6:29 left. The Wildcats then finished on an 18-3 run, holding USC to 1 of 15 shooting the rest of the way.
Poor USC shooting in that game included a 1-of-13 effort from Drew Peterson, who missed all six attempts from behind the arc. But he comes into the rematch full of confidence after scoring 20 points and hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 11.5 seconds left against Oregon.
The victory gave the Trojans their most wins ever in the regular season.
"We made some huge plays in the last minute and a half of the game," USC coach Andy Enfield said. "On the last play ... Drew, it was his time to create. He took what the defense gave him and they left him open for three and he shot it off the dribble. It was a big-time shot."
Arizona's Azuolas Tubelis had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting, also helping to keep USC's versatile big man Isaiah Mobley close to his season averages. Mobley averages 14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Bennedict Mathurin (17.1 points per game) leads Arizona in scoring. Tubelis is at 15.4 points, while 7-foot-1 center Christian Koloko averages 11.7 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds.
Arizona's most recent Pac-12 title came in the 2017-18 season.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2022