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Arizona played out of sorts for 40 minutes in Los Angeles to fall to USC, 57-48. So much so that Sean Miller could be seen throughout the game literally directing his Wildcats into proper positions on both offense and defense. It’s as if Arizona suddenly forgot how to play basketball, let alone score the basketball. USC, which played far from flawless basketball itself, limited Arizona to below 30 percent shooting on the night, baited the Wildcats into 15 turnovers, and watched happily as the visitors shot a woeful 3-for-26 from deep.

What Happened?

It was obvious in the early going that Arizona simply didn’t have it. Despite jumping out to an early 9-2 lead, the Wildcats quickly fell behind as the Trojans answered with an 11-0 scoring run. From there, Arizona quickly faded in a relatively tame road environment, all but lulled to sleep by a patient USC team and a less than energetic home crowd at the Galen Center.

The Trojans (20-9, 9-7 Pac-12) shot 42.6 percent from the floor, while holding the Wildcats to just 16-of-57 shooting (28.1%). Jonah Matthews led USC with 14 points, which included a clutch 3-Pointer that put the Trojans up 50-44 with less than three minutes to play. Onyeka Okongwu was the only other Trojan to score in double figures. The freshman forward finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji produced his league-leading thirteenth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Nico Mannion had 11 points on 3-for-14 shooting.

The Wildcats (19-8, 9-6 Pac-12) did outrebound the Trojans 38-32 thanks in large part to 14 offensive rebounds. However, Arizona simply could not make shots on Thursday, leading to yet another frustrating loss for a club that is searching for an identity.

Who Starred?

Aside from USC’s Jonah Matthews, whose 3-Pointer to stop a mini Arizona scoring run and put the Trojans back up by six points in the closing minutes, the real question is who did not star in the Galen Center. The game was nothing close to elite college basketball, if that’s even a thing anymore as the more the “1-and-Done” Rule remains in effect the more the college game continues to deteriorate.

The teams combined for 30 turnovers (15 each). The defenses accounted for 10 steals each. There were 35 total fouls, with many coming away from the basket on silly reaches. The arena was not even close to being half full. It was relatively quiet, even on USC scoring runs, when you eliminate the noise coming from USC’s in-game disc jockey.

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As far as shooting goes, one is left wondering what happened to the Arizona team that at one point this season was a consistent 48 percent shooting team. Mannion was 3-for-14 from the floor and two of those makes were layups off dribble drives. Dylan Smith was 1-for-9 from the floor. Jemarl Baker was 2-for-9. Stone Gettings had four points.

For fans, it was tough to watch.

How USC Won?

The Trojans are not a great defensive team, but they implemented an effective game plan that forced Arizona to run its offensive sets outside the 3-Point arc. In fact, USC all but ran a “Pack Line” defense against the Wildcats. USC sagged off ball handlers, completely took away any semblance of effective dribble penetration, double teamed Arizona big men if and when they caught the ball in the paint, and exaggerated its help defense on Arizona’s Nnaji all game to keep Arizona best scorer relatively in check.

It worked as Arizona settled for 26 attempts from deep, while only attempting 15 free throws.

X Factor(s)?

Arizona was without two key players on Thursday. Josh Green is recovering from a lower back injury and did not make the trip to Los Angeles. Another Wildcat that did not play due to personal reasons, but was on the bench, was Max Hazzard, a L.A. native who played at UC Irvine before transferring to Arizona as a graduate student. On a night when those who did play could not hit water if they fell out of a boat, an all-around player the caliber of Green, or a sharpshooter like Hazzard could have certainly made a difference.

Player of the Game

USC’s Jonah Matthews finished with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists. In almost every other game, this stat line would not be good enough for player of the game status, but tonight was an unusual night between two teams that really did not look motivated to actually win the game.

Stat of the Game

Arizona’s 3-for-26 shooting from behind the 3-Point line is a stunner. The Wildcats, for a huge swath of the game, made almost zero effort to get the basketball inside. Worse, USC managed to slow Arizona’s offense down on nearly every possession, resulting in wasteful perimeter passing and back-it-out dribbling.

Up Next:

Arizona visits UCLA on Saturday, February 29. Tip time is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on ESPN.