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January 12, 2014

No. 1 Arizona looking for rare L.A. road sweep

LOS ANGELES -- When Sean Miller looks at USC, he does not see a 26 1/2-point average margin of defeat through two Pac-12 Conference games or a nonconference common opponent loss at Long Beach State.

Instead, the Arizona head coach points to the Trojans' wins over brother Archie Miller's team Dayton - which owns wins over Gonzaga and California - and his old Xavier program.

"I think that they've been uncharacteristic in their first two conference games," Miller said leading up to Sunday night's 6 p.m. PT tipoff at the Galen Center. "They're kind of in one of those pockets where they haven't played well. But they're, to me, a much, much better team than maybe they've played the last two games."

The top-ranked Wildcats (16-0, 3-0 Pac-12), meanwhile, have been playing better than anyone in the country. With a win over the Trojans (9-6, 0-2 Pac-12), they will be able to say they are unlike any other team to suit up in Tucson.

UA, one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the nation, is currently tied with the 1931-32 team for the best start in program history. It has not been easy, either, with a neutral site win over Duke and at true road environments San Diego State, Michigan and now UCLA.

The Wildcats held off the Bruins despite losing a late 13-point lead in less than 3 minutes. Like it has all season, Arizona remained composed and knocked down eight free throws over the final 63 seconds Thursday to leave Pauley Pavilion with a 79-75 victory.

"We're battle-tested," said UA point guard T.J. McConnell, who recorded eight points, seven rebounds and seven assists. "The games we've had against those teams prepared us [for UCLA]."

Among the stars through the run has been junior guard Nick Johnson, who has three 20-point games over his last four - including back-to-back contests. Johnson netted a game-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting at UCLA and made the go-ahead floater with 1:27 remaining.

But the theme throughout the run has been the Wildcats' defense. Opponents are averaging just 56. 8 points (fifth in the country) on 36.8 percent shooting (sixth). The second-half adjustments have been key, limiting teams to 36.4 percent - including 27 percent from the 3-point line - and outscoring opponents by an average of 9.8 points after halftime.

"We have defenders one through five - and then some," UA freshman Aaron Gordon said.

In the way of history stands a Trojans team that is second-to-last in the Pac-12 in scoring at 73.9 points. The same holds true for USC's shooting percentage (45 percent) under first-year head coach Andy Enfield.

But the contest will match the league's top rebounding team, USC, against the one that surrenders the fewest. Arizona has not lost the rebounding battle all season, although UCLA did compete on the glass with a 16-11 edge on offensive boards and was only outrebounded 37-36.

In the last game, a 79-60 loss to Arizona State, Trojans leading scorer Byron Wesley scored 20 points and pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds.

"It's just tough losing," said Wesley, who is averaging 21.8 points on 62.3 percent shooting to go with 10.3 rebounds over the last four games. "It's a team game. We've all got to pick it up and play better.

"We're still confident. We're not scared of (Arizona)."

Arizona has not swept a Los Angeles road trip since the 2004-05 season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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