USC

Road continues to be rough for No. 23 USC as it loses, 86-78, to No. 17 Arizona

Andy Enfield shrugged.

At home, his USC basketball team hasn't lost. On the road, it has rarely won. And Sunday added another gloomy data point. USC couldn't overcome a deep first-half hole in its 86-78 loss to No. 17 Arizona.

It drops No. 23 USC to 0-4 as a ranked team, and 2-5 on the road in conference. Enfield mulled over the road puzzle.

"You're playing on the road in this league you've got to play," he said.

Enfield sighed.

"For the most part this year, we've played extremely hard, so I'm not going to get upset at our players," he continued. "But there are times when in key stretches of games, when the other teams are going on runs, where you have to really focus and you've just got to lay it on the line."

It was this inconsistency, he said, that made the difference.

Arizona (21-5, 9-4 Pac-12) dominated the first half. The Wildcats banged inside, then dominated on the glass. That led to 22 points in the paint in the first half, and it slowed the Trojans' up-tempo attack.

"It's a lot easier to play fast when you're getting rebounds" and stops, Enfield said.

Arizona led, 46-30, at halftime.

This was puzzling.

"It wasn't like we weren't ready to play," Enfield said.

But when USC has produced a forgettable half, it has been on the road. USC (18-7, 7-5) has led for significant stretches of three of its road losses, only to squander it late.

Sunday was the reverse.

In the second half, the Trojans sent more players to the rim to staunch the flow of rebounds to Arizona. It worked. USC outrebounded Arizona by seven in the second half. The final tally was 40-39, Arizona.

"They had their way with us in the paint," point guard Julian Jacobs said. "Going into the second half, our main goal was just not to get punked."

With about 12 minutes remaining, the Trojans found a rhythm. Guard Elijah Stewart cut into the lane for a layup. Then forward Bennie Boatwright, who finished with a team-high 18 points, hit a three-pointer. Then point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who scored 15 points, did too.

It was an 8-0 USC run. Arizona's lead was down to six.

Three minutes later, Boatwright made another three-pointer. The lead was three.

Soon, McLaughlin hit again too. Two-point lead.

Less than seven minutes remained. USC was right back in the game.

Then, it wasn't. The Wildcats immediately embarked on a 9-1 run.

Gabe York led Arizona with 17 points, and Ryan Anderson and Allonzo Trier scored 14 each.

Partially, the Wildcats' dominance inside generated late free-throw opportunities. They made 18 of 24, to USC's five of 11.

And, partially, USC just missed makable shots.

With a chance to cut into the deficit late, guard Katin Reinhardt missed a floater, and Boatwright couldn't connect on two open three-pointers.

"To win on the road, especially at a place as tough to win as the McKale Center, against a top 15 team in the country, you need to make those shots in the last five minutes," Enfield said.

The Pac-12 has been especially tough on road teams this season. Only three teams have swept a road series. For the first time, every team has at least two losses away from home.

Home teams have won 71.1% of games.

"The Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in the United States," forward Nikola Jovanovic said. "Every game is going to be challenging."

To crack the road puzzle, Enfield said, "We have to try to figure out how to play 40 minutes."

zach.helfand@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 15, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Trojans stumble again on road - USC is dominated in first half by Wildcats and is 2-5 in the Pac-12 away from home. - NO. 17 ARIZONA 86 NO. 23 USC 78" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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