Arizona-Southern Cal Preview
Things didn’t go well for Arizona the last time it faced
Southern California in Los Angeles. With a Pac-10 tournament title
ultimately on the line, the Wildcats can’t afford another poor
effort against the Trojans.
The top-seeded and No. 16 Wildcats look to avenge that defeat as
they face the Trojans, who will be without suspended coach Kevin
O’Neill, in Friday night’s semifinal at Staples Center.
Riding an eight-game winning streak at the time, then-10th
ranked Arizona could not hold a three-point halftime lead and shot
35.8 percent to fall 65-57 at USC on Feb. 24.
Though the Wildcats (26-6) split the season series with the
Trojans, the memory of that defeat still lingers. Another
performance like that, and not only will Arizona fail to extend its
record number of tournament titles to five but also lose some
momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.
“In March, it’s all about ‘Did you win or lose?'” Arizona coach
Sean Miller said. “If you win, you play another day and we all know
we are in for a difficult challenge against USC.
“We are playing a quality team and we need to be at our best to
beat them on a neutral court.”
Fourth-seed USC (19-13), which might need to win this event to
earn an NCAA tournament bid, made an improbable run to the Pac-10
tournament championship as the sixth seed in 2009.
The Trojans are back in the tournament after being banned last
season after self-imposing sanctions for illegal benefits received
Leading scorer Nikola Vucevic was a freshman on the 2009 team
and hopes to guide the Trojans to a similar run as the underdog
“We get more fired up for better teams and we play more
aggressively,” said the 6-foot-10 Vucevic, who had 25 points with
12 rebounds against Arizona last month.
Those hopes for making a similar run, however, took a strange
turn Friday evening when the school suspended O’Neill for the
remainder of the Pac-10 tournament after the coach got into a
verbal confrontation with an Arizona booster Thursday. O’Neill was
a former assistant for the Wildcats under Lute Olson and coach
there for the 2007-08 season.
Vucevic also helped contain Pac-10 player of year Derrick
Williams (18.9 points per game), who finished with a season-low
eight points at USC.
“He’s the best player in the Pac-10 and you want to do better
than him,” said Vucevic, who averages 17.3 points. “We did a good
job as a team stopping him.”
Williams, however, had 22 points and seven rebounds in Arizona’s
78-69 win over Oregon State on Thursday.
While the 6-foot-8 sophomore is trying to downplay the revenge
factor, he knows the Trojans present a serious challenge and one
where his team needs to rise to the occasion.
“Having the No. 1 seed, we’re one step closer to the Pac-10
championship,” said Williams, who scored 20 points in an 82-73 win
over USC on Jan. 29. “It’s like a home game for them. They play
right up the street, so we have to match their intensity and
hopefully we can.”
While Vucevic had his streak of eight straight double-doubles
snapped with seven points and five boards, Alex Stepheson had 14
with 16 rebounds in USC’s 70-56 quarterfinal win over California on
Stepheson has recorded double-doubles in four of the last five
games, including a 12-point, 10-rebound effort versus Arizona.
Arizona won the last two tournament meetings between the schools
since the event returned from an 11-year hiatus in 2002 – the same
year the Wildcats beat USC 81-71 for their last title.