LOS ANGELES — No. 14 Arizona will carry a 10-game winning streak and a chip on its shoulder into Thursday’s game against Southern California.
The Wildcats (16-2, 5-0), however, have lost two of their last three games and four of their last six against Southern Cal (16-3, 3-3) at the Galen Center. The most recent clash was a remarkable 103-101 quadruple-overtime loss on Jan. 9 last season.
Freshman guard Allonzo Trier was Arizona’s star that time, recording 25 points, six rebounds and four assists in 53 minutes. He played the final three overtimes despite suffering a fractured bone in his right hand in the first overtime.
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Seven-foot Finnish freshman forward Lauri Markkanen has taken over for Trier, who has not played this season for undisclosed reasons. Coach Sean Miller called Trier’s absence a “once-on-a-lifetime situation” Monday, the closest anyone has come to an explanation.
Trier has watched every game from the bench, and was given a red shirt that read “Free Zo” during the pregame shoot-around before a 91-75 victory over Arizona State in Tucson last Thursday. He did not put it on.
Markkanen had a career-high 30 points on 12-of-18-shooting and made 4-of-7 3-pointers against Arizona State. He also had eight rebounds, five offensive, did not commit a turnover in 30 minutes. Markkanen has 52 points, 14 rebounds and one turnover in his last 52 minutes
“Markkanen is a future NBA player, so there is not much you can do about his size,” Arizona State guard Tra Holder said.
Mock drafts project Markkanen to go in the top half of the NBA draft in 2017, but he has not addressed his plans.
“Lauri was spectacular,” Miller said.
Arizona’s other 7-footer, center Dusan Ristic, had 16 points against Arizona State and has 16, 18, 17, 16 and 16 points in Pac-12 play.
Guard Kadeem Allen and freshmen Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons round out the starting five as point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright works to get back to 100 percent after an ankle sprain in December. Allen had 18 points, four rebounds, eight assists and four steals against Arizona State. Arizona had 25 assists on 34 baskets.
“Kadeem Allen is our team’s heart and soul,” Miller said.
Southern Cal, which fell out of the AP poll for the first time in three weeks, will counter Arizona’s size with an athletic big man of its own, 6-11 sophomore Chimezie Metu.
Metu had a career-high 24 points in a 71-68 victory at Colorado on Sunday, giving the Trojans a road split to the Pac-12 mountain schools after an 86-64 loss at Utah. The Trojans have lost three of five after opening the season 13-0 with victories over Texas A&M and BYU.
“It would be nice if we could make a few shots and make it easier on ourselves,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Somehow we have three conference wins with not shooting the ball great.”
Metu made 11-of-14 field goal attempts showed range, hitting several jumpers from the foul line area. He is averaging 14.1 points and guard Jordan McLaughlin is averaging 13.9. Guard Elijah Stewart, who had 27 points in the Trojans’ four-overtime victory over Arizona last year, is averaging 13.0.
Arizona’s losses are to No. 4 Gonzaga (17-0) by five points and No. 13 Butler (15-3) by four.
USC has won eight games in which it was behind by nine or more points. It trailed Colorado by 11 before rallying Sunday.