Less than a week after Arizona put up one of the most impressive performances on the season with a complete victory over Arizona State, the Wildcats were dismantled by UCLA on their own home court. Now, Arizona will look to split the home stand against USC.
The Trojans are also coming off a loss as they dropped a thriller in overtime to Arizona State. USC was playing with a chance to bring a winning Pac-12 record into Tucson on Saturday afternoon. Instead, the Trojans fell, 98-93 after playing an extra five minutes.
To their credit, they have played well since losing Head Coach Kevin O’Neill early in January. He was let go after his team went 7-10 in the first seventeen games of the year.
The Trojans won the first two games of the season, including a victory over Long Beach State, but were then blown out by Illinois in a stretch that saw USC lose eight of ten games. Some of those losses came to top tier teams like San Diego State and Minnesota, but the Trojans also lost to lower tier teams like UC-Irvine and Nebraska.
After O’Neill was relieved of his coaching duties, long time assistant Bob Cantu was named the Interim Head Coach. He has found some success with the Trojans, but plays a significantly different style of basketball than his predecessor. Cantu allows his team to run up and down the court more and with him at the helm, the Trojans have averaged eighty points per game. With O’Neill as the coach, they had only broken eighty points once all season.
The biggest threat for USC is redshirt senior Eric Wise. The 6-foot-6 forward is averaging 15.6 points in conference play and has only been held to single digit numbers in scoring twice all season. He will likely get a matchup with Brandon Ashley, which could be an issue for Arizona as Ashley’s defense has been up and down throughout the year. Wise recorded a double-double against ASU with nineteen points and ten rebounds.
DeWayne Dedmon will join Wise in the frontcourt. The seven-foot center has played well for a majority of the season, but has been plagued by foul trouble the past few games. Dedmon fouled out in just fourteen minutes of action against Arizona State and scored just four points on the night. The junior should provide a good challenge for Kaleb Tarczewski.
One of the hottest players for USC lately has been junior guard J.T. Terrell. In conference play he is averaging nearly fourteen points a night, while shooting 35-percent from beyond the arc. Terrell is definitely not afraid to shoot the ball as he has taken 111 three-pointers on the year, 52 more than anyone else on the team.
Byron Wesley is another starting guard that can score for the Trojans. He is averaging ten points per game on the year to go along with four and a half rebounds. Wesley has also stepped up his game in conference play hitting exactly half his shots.
At point guard for USC is Jio Fontan. The senior missed all of last season with an injury, but has fully recovered and back to action. He has started all twenty games for the Trojans this year and has racked up 98 assists throughout the season. While he is not quite as good as Larry Drew II, Fontan should provide a similar matchup for Mark Lyons.
With the coaching change, one player that has seen more playing time is Omar Oraby. Averaging fifteen minutes on the season, the forward saw 22 minutes of action against the Sun Devils. He made good use of it, scoring four points, grabbing five rebounds, and blocking three shots.
Senior forward Aaron Fuller is a Trojan that has seen his playing time drop as the season progresses. He hasn’t been very productive, with just three rebounds a game. Fuller is trying hard not to get lost in the shuffle of the coaching change, but only saw seven minutes of playing time in Tempe.
True freshman Chass Bryan has been steadily working his way up the playing time ladder. The point guard has been backing up Fontan and has done an adequate job. His assist-to-turnover ratio was stayed at a steady 3-to-2 rate throughout the season, though he has been lacking on the scoring end.
The Wildcats should come out fired up after starting flat in the loss to the Bruins. USC will be playing with nothing to lose, but is playing under an interim coach. The Trojans don’t match up well with the Wildcats, which gives Arizona an edge. However, if the team from Southern Cal can hang in the game long enough, there could always be a chance.
For Arizona, the key will be to start quickly and take over the game. If shots continue to not fall, it could be a very long end to the weekend.