In a battle of ranked Pac-12 teams, the No. 17 Arizona Wildcats held off the No. 23 USC Trojans, 86-78, at Tucson's McKale Center on Sunday night.
NCAA March Madness noted the victory via Twitter:
This time AZ!— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 15, 2016
No OT needed to decide this one as No. 17 Arizona overcomes No. 23 USC, 86-78. pic.twitter.com/CVPQCbbaDc
Senior Gabe York was the man of the hour for the Wildcats (21-5), finishing with 17 points and connecting on four three-pointers. He also reached a scoring milestone, per Arizona Basketball:
He did a little bit of everything Sunday night, including helping out on both sides of the ball on this play, per Arizona Athletics:
One of USC's bigger highlights came early on when Julian Jacobs threw down a two-handed dunk, per USC Men's Basketball:
Arizona, which never trailed in the game, later used a 23-11 run to take a 36-22 lead and force a USC timeout at the six-minute, 14-second mark of the first half. York's three-pointer from the top of the key nine seconds before halftime gave the Wildcats a 46-28 lead, per FS1:
However, USC's Jordan McLaughlin wasn't going to end the half without a drive to the lane, per FS1:
Despite the buzzer-beater, Anthony Gimino of Tucson News Now summed up the first half well:
As Gabe York's 3-pointer shows, pretty much everything going Arizona's way: 46-30 at half vs. USC.— Anthony Gimino (@AGWildcatReport) February 15, 2016
York wasn't the only Wildcat to produce on the night. Ryan Anderson finished with 14 points, six rebounds and this nice block, per Arizona Athletics:
The beginning of the second half was more of the same, and York was back at it again. He hit his first basket of the half at the 15:14 mark—a three-pointer that pushed the lead to 15 at 59-44, per Arizona Athletics:
He finished the night as just the fourth Wildcat to connect on 200 career three-pointers, per Javier Morales of sports blog All Sports Tucson.
ESPN's Myron Medcalf noticed Arizona's strong performance:
Um, Pac-12 update: Arizona has a double-digit lead over USC. Sean Miller's squad ain't here to play games.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 15, 2016
However, the Trojans (18-7) used a 23-9 run to cut the lead to two on a McLaughlin three-pointer at the 6:45 mark. McLaughlin and Bennie Boatwright combined for five makes from downtown during the run.
The crowd came to its feet, and the Wildcats answered, scoring nine of the game's next 10 points.
Arizona's Allonzo Trier scored 14 points and nailed a three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 77-69 lead with 5:02 left. Mark Tollefsen chipped in with 13 points, while Dusan Ristic just missed a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
Boatwright had 18 points and seven rebounds in the losing effort, while McLaughlin (15), Jacobs (11) and Katin Reinhardt (10) all reached double figures for the Trojans.
This victory was not only the fifth in a row for Arizona, but it was also a nice revenge win after it lost a four-overtime game to the Trojans on Jan. 9. More importantly, it moved the Wildcats into a tie with the No. 11 Oregon Ducks atop the conference with a 9-4 league record. With five games remaining against unranked teams, Arizona has the Pac-12 as its for the taking in what would be the Wildcats' third straight regular-season title.
The second loss in a row drops USC 1.5 games out of first in a season that not many saw coming. Head coach Andy Enfield has turned around a program that won just 23 total games the past two seasons.
A conference championship is going to be hard to come by, but USC should get back on track with home games against the Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes next on the schedule. The Trojans can make some noise as a lower seed come NCAA tournament time.
Gimino noted how the bench helped the Wildcats pull out the victory:
Dusan Ristic, Mark Tollefsen off the bench: Combined 22 points, 15 rebounds in 39 minutes. #ArizonaWildcats— Anthony Gimino (@AGWildcatReport) February 15, 2016
York praised two of his teammates, per ZonaZealots:
"I fell like myself Kaleb and Ryan, we've answered the bell all year" - Gabe York— ZonaZealots Go Cats! (@ZonaZealots) February 15, 2016
He also commented on the Wildcats' current spot in the Pac-12 standings but noted there was more work to do, per Zack Rosenblatt of the Tucson Star: “We’re tied right now so we’re not really No. 1 yet fully, at least from my point of view."
Anderson felt the same way, per Rosenblatt:
Ryan Anderson: “We’re not satisfied with just tying and being in the conversation."— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) February 15, 2016
Although his team won the game, Arizona head coach Sean Miller was not happy with the fact USC made a late run. "We do some things that are really puzzling," he said in reference to his team's defense, per Rosenblatt.
Even so, the Arizona veterans have been in this position before and seem to know how to handle adversity. At this point the Wildcats should be considered the favorites to take home the Pac-12 title.