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January 26, 2013

No. 6 Arizona locks up USC

Arizona head coach Sean Miller said after his team's loss to UCLA that his players came out and missed a handful of easy, point-blank looks that resulted in a hole the sixth-ranked Wildcats were unable to overcome.

Arizona needed less than a half of play Saturday against USC to put those struggles in the past, and the rest of the game played out like a glorified practice.

The Wildcats created easy looks in transition and stifled the Trojans en route to a 74-50 thumping at McKale Center.

Nick Johnson shot an efficient 6 of 8 from the field to net 14 points for Arizona (17-2, 5-2 Pac-12 Conference), which not only connected on 48.3 percent of its shots through one half but limited USC to a dreadful 24.1 percent.

For the game, the Trojans (8-13, 3-5 Pac-12) "warmed up" to finish at a 28.1 percent clip and turned the ball over 16 times. No USC player scored in double figures, as Jio Fontan's nine points on 2-of-9 shooting paced the visitors.

In their previous game, the Men of Troy scored 93 points, had two players - including Fontan - produce 20 or more and shot just under 50 percent in a five-point loss at Arizona State.

"We were ready to defend USC," Miller said. "Tonight, [the Trojans] were more a function of our defense than they were of themselves."

Just two nights removed from digging a quick 16-point deficit, the Wildcats jumped on the Trojans for the game's first six points as part of a 12-2 run through the first 5 1/2 minutes.

Instead of having to create in the halfcourt set, UA was able to force four quick USC turnovers and race out for easy buckets.

A pair of Mark Lyons 3-pointers and one from Kevin Parrom pushed the advantage to 21-7, further proving that Arizona had turned a complete 180 degrees from its previous flat performance. From there, the 'Cats found a rhythm and went on a 13-2 spurt over the next 5:43.

Things went so well, Miller elected to summons forward Angelo Chol off the bench with 8:25 to play in the half. Chol, whose role has diminished drastically, came into the game with just one appearance in the team's previous four games.

"Angelo came in tonight and added to the depth that we like so much," Miller said of the sophomore, who recorded a point, two rebounds and a block in eight minutes.

Lyons, who missed 11 of 17 shots against the Bruins, found his shooting touch on this day. His third 3-pointer of the half - and only nine points of the game - came just before the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 39-20 lead at the break.

"Things got away from us early and we weren't able to get back in it," USC interim head coach Bob Cantu said.

By the second half, Arizona was able to feed the post and attempt to get 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski more involved. After attempting just two shots in the opening half, the true freshman doubled that total after a little more than six minutes.

A feed from fellow freshman Grant Jerrett found Tarczewski underneath the basket for a rare, quick catch-and-score to run the lead up to 45-24 with 16:36 remaining.

"We knew after (the loss to) UCLA that we wanted to attack, and I think we did that tonight," said Tarczewski, who finished with 10 points and seven boards in an active 22 minutes.

Johnson's jump shot at the midway point pushed the advantage past 30, and it was only a matter of time before Miller emptied his bench. Max Wiepking's 3-point play with 2:56 to play gave Arizona its largest lead, 74-40.

Solomon Hill quietly added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists while making 5 of 9 shots for the Wildcats, who cooled off to finish at 41 percent shooting.

But this was a day for the UA freshmen to bask in the spotlight. Brandon Ashley chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds, continuing the forward's steady progression in recent weeks, and Gabe York added seven points in his first appearance since Dec. 23 against Miami.

York, who racked up seven consecutive coaches' decision DNPs in that span, brought instant energy to the floor with a pair of late 3-pointers.

"You watch Gabe shoot the ball and you say to yourself, 'Gabe can step in there and make a difference,'" Miller said. "I think the way that he's earned his opportunity is by doing what he does so well - which is to practice hard and have a great attitude."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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