Time: 5 p.m. Tucson time
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,538)
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Matt Muehlebach) [Sirius/XM: 93/195]
TV: ESPNU (Dave Flemming/Sean Farnham)
USC is responding to interim coach Bob Cantu, a long-time Trojans assistant who replaced the fired Kevin O’Neill on Jan. 14. In the three games after taking over, Cantu is 1-2 but the two losses were close to Oregon (76-74) and Arizona State (98-93 in overtime in Tempe). O’Neill was good with the media and he got along personally with players — he is a good friend of Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr, whom he coached as an assistant at Arizona — but he also had the reputation of being Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde with his players. Cantu, a mild-mannered players coach, is letting the Trojans play. USC is averaging 78.7 points in the three games under Cantu. They averaged 63 points under O’Neill. Cantu also knows the territory. Cantu is in his 12th season with the USC program. Cantu has remained on the USC staff through four coaching regimes — including Tim Floyd — and entered the season as the longest tenured assistant coach in the Pac-12. During Cantu’s tenure, 11 players from USC have played or are currently playing in the NBA, including five first-round draft picks from 2007-11, more than any Pac-12 school.
The Wildcats are coming off a 38.4 field goal percentage (28-of-73) on Thursday against UCLA. The Wildcats missed 12 of their first 13 field goals and fell behind 21-5 eight minutes into the game, won by UCLA 84-73. Most of those misses were high-percentage shots close to the basket. If the Wildcats shot closer to their season field-goal percentage of 45.7 in that stretch, they would have made six field goals instead of one — a 10-point differential. For the sake of argument, that would reduce UCLA’s lead to 21-15. The Bruins, however, benefited on the offensive end from Arizona looking nervous from its erratic start. Overall, if Arizona makes half of those high-percentage shots, the game would have taken on a different complexion. The Wildcats outscored UCLA 68-63 after trailing 21-5. It amazes me that Arizona outscored UCLA in any stretch of the game with the Bruins seemingly in control throughout. Thursday’s shooting percentage was just the fourth time this season that Arizona did not shoot better than 40 percent from the field.
USC has made 33 more field goals than its opponents this season, yet has been outscored by 10 points. USC’s opponents have made 125 three-pointers to the Trojans’ 107 and have made 58 more free throws. In 10 of the last 12 games USC has had as many or more baskets as its opponents, yet is 5-7 in that stretch. USC has also had as many or more baskets in six of the 12 losses this season. In the seven conference games, USC has been called for 37 more fouls (146-109) than its opponent which has led to 33 more points (86-119). In the seven games conference games, USC trails its opponents by a composite score of 508-507. Arizona has slightly tried more free throws than USC in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats are 89 of 115 in six games while USC is 86 of 133 in seven games. USC averages 19 free-throw attempts per game while Arizona averages 19.1. The UA has been called for 108 fouls in conference games while USC has been whistled 146 times. One word: Discipline.
Solomon Hill recorded a double-double against UCLA (13 points and 10 rebounds), his 13th double-double of his career. Nick Johnson tallied a career-high 23 points. Grant Jerrett pulled down a season-high 10 rebounds. All winning numbers. But the glaring stat of Mark Lyons’ zero assists and the UA’s woeful shooting percentage, especially at the start, were difficult for Arizona to overcome. The Wildcats were also 5-of-24 from three-point range. On many occasions, it seemed Arizona settled on the three-point attempt instead of running its offense. Hill, a senior forward, the USC game just three points shy of moving into sole possession of 30th place on the UA career scoring list. Currently, Hill has scored 1,206 points in 122 career appearances (9.9 points per game) and trails Jordan Hill’s 1,208 career points scored from 2006-09. Solomon Hill (no relation to Jordan) must emerge as the leader of this team and not look dejected like he did so many times Thursday.
USC’s roster features 12 upperclassmen and a combined 326 career starts at the Division I level entering this season. If you combined all of their career scoring averages, USC as a team would score 87.8 points per game. Counting Jio Fontan (Fordham transfer) who missed last season but started in the 2010-11 season, USC returns 4 starters (Dewayne Dedmon, Aaron Fuller (Iowa) and Byron Wesley), as well as 4 other players in J.T. Terrell (Wake Forest), Ari Stewart (Wake Forest), Eric Wise (Cal-Irvine) and Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee) which entered the season with at least 16 career starts. Omar Oraby, another transfer, from Rice, has started three times this season and is logging 15.3 minutes a game. He is a 7-foot-2 junior center. Wise (15.6 points per game), Terrell (13.3), Wesley (12.3) and Fontan (11.0) are averaging double figures in Pac-12 games.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner