The Trojans, apparently beaten and stifled by the zone, made a strong run at the Wildcats in the closing minutes, but still lost, 60-55, in an important Pacific 10 game. USC still leads the conference with a 10-3 record, but Arizona (9-3) is only one-half game behind in a race that probably won't be decided until the final weekend. Washington (9-5) cluttered the conference picture by upsetting Oregon State (8-4) Saturday at Corvallis, Ore.
Some critical calls went against the Trojans in the waning minutes, provoking a demonstration by many in a crowd of 7,223.
Partisan fans booed lustily, and wadded-up paper cups were thrown onto the floor. When the paper cup supply was exhausted, the court was then sprinkled with popcorn.
Arizona shut down USC with its 2-3 matchup zone and, on offense, worked effectively inside with forward Eddie Smith and center Pete Williams doing most of the damage. The Wildcats also got some timely outside shooting from guards Steve Kerr and Brock Brunkhorst, forcing the Trojans to abandon their zone.
As a result, Arizona was breezing with an 11-point lead, 45-34, with 8:07 remaining. USC then began chipping away at the lead while applying full-court defensive pressure and contesting inbounds passes.
The Trojans outscored the Wildcats, 11-2, culminated by forward Derrick Dowell's three-point play with 4:58 left.
Two plays--there might have been more--then stalled USC's momentum.
Wayne Carlander, who was contained most of the game, drove the baseline and scored with 4:06 to play. But, instead of a tie game at 47-47, USC's senior forward was cited for a charging violation and the basket was disallowed.
"I pulled up for the shot. I didn't go through the guy," Carlander said. "That play happens all the time without a foul being called."
Arizona forward Morgan Taylor then knocked in a jump shot from the baseline before USC wingman Ron Holmes countered with a five-foot shot.
But a subsequent three-point play by Smith that was disputed by the Trojans ultimately put the game out of USC's reach.
Holmes drew his fifth foul on Smith, and the Arizona forward then scored on a delayed shot. It was, at least, a lengthy continuation play.
"I thought it was a jump ball and I asked two officials, who said the play was clean (presumably no foul)," Dowell said. "The other official told me that the call had already been made.
"I'm not saying the officials did a poor job, but there were a lot of critical calls and others that should have been called. If the officiating was a little better, the game would have been more interesting."
In any event, after Smith's three-point play with 2:59 remaining, USC cut Arizona's lead to three points twice but couldn't get any closer.
The crowd really became incensed when reserve USC forward Kevin Steward missed on a jump shot and then went crashing to the floor. Even USC Coach Stan Morrison came off the bench on that one, believing his player was fouled.
Morrison acknowledged later that some critical calls went against his team but wouldn't specifically comment until he watched the films of the game.
"Calls are made over 40 minutes, and we shouldn't have been in a position where they should have made any difference," Morrison said.
That was a sensible observation.
Arizona Coach Lute Olson said that USC got baskets in the first half when obvious charging fouls should have been called. So it's all a matter of viewpoint.
USC shot only 12 free throws, making 7. Arizona went to the line 32 times, cashing in on only 16.
This isn't unusual in the sense that the trailing team is always fouling to catch up.
"If we had hit our free throws, the game would have been over 10 minutes before it was," Olson said.
The meaningful thread of the game was that USC couldn't solve Arizona's match-up zone, an alignment that has man-to-man principles.
"We didn't want anyone catching the ball where someone wasn't guarding someone," Olson said. "And we wanted to keep Carlander from getting the ball. He's a great competitor. I know. I tried to recruit him when I was coaching at Iowa."
Carlander, who brought a 16-point scoring average into the game, got only 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. He was more effective late in the game when he went to the point, the top of the key, in order to get the ball more often. He took only three shots in the first half, making one.
Arizona led only 24-21 at halftime but pulled away in the second half until the Trojans made their run late in the game.
"They had a dynamite zone," Morrison said. "It was bigger and tougher than the last time we played them, and we were playing behind most of the game."
USC beat Arizona, 64-63, last month at Tucson. But Brunkhorst was injured at the time, and Taylor was academically ineligible.
Smith, who finished with 17 points, and Williams, who got 12, are quick, 6-7 inside players. They're more effective with Brunkhorst as a playmaker.
Kerr was the playmaker in the first meeting with USC, but he's more comfortable as a shooting guard, as he demonstrated Saturday when he hit 4 of 6 from outside and contributed 14 points.
Arizona beat USC at its own game, pounding inside. The Wildcats shot 66.7% from the field, the Trojans only 46.2%.
Morrison said his team looked tired, especially in the first half. USC beat Arizona State, 76-60, Thursday night, while Arizona had a week's rest to prepare for the Trojans.
"Arizona really executed its offense and took us apart," Morrison said. "They also kept the ball away from Carlander and Dowell very effectively. We didn't shoot well from the perimeter, or anywhere."
Clayton Olivier, USC's 6-10 center, was in street clothes. He has a broken blood vessel in his right foot and missed both games against the Arizona schools.
"We missed him," Morrison said. "Clayton gives us a big target inside."
Carlander concurred saying, "With Clayton in there they have to guard him, and he gets people in foul trouble."
Charlie Simpson replaced Olivier, but Morrison elected to go with a lineup without a pure center in the second half to offset Arizona's quickness.
"We won with our defense and offensive patience," Olson said. "We had charted tapes of USC's last three games, and they scored something like 26 points a game off fast breaks. We were determined not to let them have that shot. We wanted to make them play a half-court game."
A few weeks ago there were five teams in contention for the Pac-10 championship. Now the race is seemingly between USC and Arizona, with Oregon State and Washington, the preseason favorites, accorded an outside chance.
There will be developing scenarios.
Trojan Notes USC penetrated Arizona's zone early in the game, building an 8-2 lead. Stan Morrison was asked why he didn't hold the ball to force Arizona to come out of its zone at that juncture. He said he might have second thoughts about that but didn't want to do anything to disrupt his team's momentum. . . . USC guard Larry Friend stole the ball at the outset of the first half and scored. But, after some consultation, an official called him for traveling while pointing to the floor. "I thought they were saying that someone fouled me before I shot," Friend said. "No way did I travel." . . . Arizona outrebounded USC, 26-23, and had a 15-10 margin in the first half. USC came into the game as the Pac-10's leading rebounding team. . . . Arizona has embarked on a four-games-in-eight-days schedule. It will meet Washington State Monday night at Pullman, Wash. "If we get through Monday's game, we have as good a chance to win the league title as anyone," Coach Lute Olson said. . . . USC is in the Bay Area next week, meeting Stanford and California Thursday and Saturday nights.