Many positive implications surround the USC Trojans mens basketball team’s 80-57 defeat of Arizona. It shows how the program improved over the years. The Wildcats had defeated the Trojans for their last five consecutive matchups.
“This is the first time in my career that I’ve beaten Arizona,” said junior forward Nick Rakocevic. “So we wanted this win tonight. [If] we played hard and we played defense, we’d be able to win and that’s what we did.”
The Trojans (11-8 overall, 4-2 Pac-12) took an early led and never looked back. Rakocevic matched his career high of 27 points and secured 12 rebounds. Senior Bennie Boatwright also scored a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
For the Wildcats(14-6 overall, 5-2 Pac-12), sophomores guard Brandon Randolph and forward Ira Lee scored 12 points each, Lee led Arizona with seven rebounds.
Freshmen Kevin Porter Jr. returned to the Trojan lineup after serving an indefinite suspension, the South Seattle native scored 14 points.
“[Porter Jr.] came in and played within the flow of the offense and played good defense,” said Trojans men basketball head Andy Enfield. “When it’s his time to step up and make shots, he made three [three-point shots] and got to the foul line.”
USC once again showed excellent ball movement by making 19 assists with senior Shaqquan Aaron and junior guard Derryck Thornton led with five each.
The Trojans began the game by prioritizing defense. USC forced two consecutive turnovers, giving them a six-point lead. Double teaming forced the Wildcats to make mistakes. Arizona struggled to find their shot after scoring 10 points, USC hit an eight-point run.
Free throws helped the Wildcats find an offensive momentum and they pushed the pace with hopes to get baskets. In the first half, the Wildcats shot 21.2 percent from the field and was 2-13 from behind the arc. Like in their 80-67 victory over UCLA, zone defense was a successful tool for the Trojans.
“We played 40 minutes of zone, which I don’t know if I’ve ever done before as a coach,” Enfield said. “Our players were rotating, they were helping, they were sliding out to the three-point line, challenging the shots.”
Layups and dunks from junior center Nick Rakocevic gave him 12 points by intermission, senior Bennie Boatwright led the Trojans with eight rebounds.
Shaqquan Aaron, Boatwright and Rakocevic scored in the beginning minutes of the second half. Scoring came slowly for Arizona; Lee pushed the Wildcats to the 30-point mark, but Arizona was behind 17 points. The Wildcats had a stronger offensive effort in the second half by scoring 38 points, but could not overcome the Trojans who shot at 53 percent in field goals.
The matchup bumped the second place Wildcats to third in the Pac-12. USC was moved from sixth place to fifth. Enfield noticed how the team has been improving.
“Unfortunately, we started out the year not shooting a great percentage,” he said. “We did a good job of hitting the open man, I thought we had good dribble penetration, we hit [Rakocevic] on some ball screens, he kicked it out, so anytime you can play inside out it certainly benefits your offense.”