TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona turned defensive in the aftermath of its disappointing home loss to UCLA.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats, in perhaps their best defensive performance of the season, stifled Southern California 74-50 on Saturday night, holding the Trojans to 28 percent shooting. And USC had to heat up at the finish to get the figure that high.
The Wildcats (17-2, 5-2 Pac-12) were dominant from the opening tip, jumping out to leads of 18-4 and 29-7. They were up 39-20 at halftime.
The Trojans (8-13, 3-5) trailed by as many as 34 in the second half.
“Their defense was exceptional,” USC interim coach Bob Cantu said. “I mean, they were very physical and very aggressive. We weren’t able to get what we did against other teams.”
Putting a loss like the one at home to UCLA on Thursday night in the rearview mirror is never easy, Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
“Our team stuck together,” he said. “We had a good day yesterday, a very good day today, and all of the things and qualities that have gotten us to this point were in place in today’s game. I think that was really the story line and why we won in such a lopsided manner.”
Defense is always the focus for Miller.
“But once in a while when you lose, all of a sudden it’s really the focus,” he said, “not just for me or our staff, but for everybody. That’s why it’s so difficult to win every game, and when you lose, what you hope is you learn from it. You’re able to move forward, kind of refocus yourself on the things that make you a good team, or more important, maybe some things that we really had to get better at.
“We were in a good mindset these last couple of days.”
Nick Johnson scored 14, Solomon Hill 13 points, Brandon Ashley 11 and Kaleb Tarczewski 10 for Arizona. No USC player reached double figures in the Trojans’ lowest-scoring game of the season. Jio Fontan scored nine.
USC dropped to 1-3 since coach Kevin O’Neill was fired. The other two losses since Cantu took over were by one point to Oregon and 98-93 in overtime Thursday night at Arizona State.
This one was a blowout in a hurry.
“We were ready,” Miller said. “The one thing about USC if you’ve followed them recently, that’s what they’ve really done well — they’ve scored. … We really respected their firepower on offense and we were ready to defend.”
The Wildcats, who fell behind UCLA 21-5 in Thursday night’s 84-73 home loss to the Bruins, turned the tables on the Trojans.
USC made two of its first 19 shots and committed seven turnovers, allowing Arizona to go up 29-7 on Hill’s layup with 7:55 left in the half, the last points in an 11-0 Wildcats run.
When the Trojans managed to cut it to 36-20 with a pair of baskets in the final minute, Mark Lyons sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key 2 seconds before the buzzer to make it 39-20 at the break.
The UCLA game was still the main subject, even after the win over USC.
“It was weird walking around campus with a loss,” Wildcats freshman Grant Jerrett said. “Nobody wants to lose, but it’s something you have to live with and learn from.”
Fellow freshman Tarczewski said the team insulates itself from the “sky is falling” mentality that follows any Arizona loss these days.
“We’re a family and we’re trying to keep it in our circle and focus on what we need to do to play the best we can,” Tarczewski said. “You see how well we bounced back from that loss.”
Arizona never trailed in this one.
Johnson scored eight as the Wildcats streaked to a 12-2 lead, then consecutive 3s by Lyons and Kevin Parrom put them ahead 18-4.
The 20 points at the half were the fewest this season for the Trojans, who had averaged 72.4 points in their first seven conference games.
USC “warmed up” to 24 percent shooting in the first half (7 for 29), compared with 48 percent for Arizona (14 for 29).
But the second half started the same way the first did, with the Trojans making three of their first 20 shots. Arizona, meanwhile, took a 58-27 lead when Johnson banked in a 15-footer with 10 minutes to play.
USC was able to cut into the lead only when Miller emptied his bench in the final 3 minutes.
USC’s three-guard starting trio of J.T. Terrell, Byron Wesley and Renaldo Woolridge were a combined 5 for 26 from the field, 3 of 11 on 3-pointers.
“This is a tough place to play all-around,” Terrell said. “I think tonight we just weren’t on our game.”
UCLA was off its game, too. The Bruins followed their big win in Tucson on Thursday with a loss at Arizona State on Saturday.