Trojans pull off the upset
Arizona star forward Derrick Williams drew a foul, his first in Thursday night’s game against USC, and glared at Trojans Coach Kevin O’Neill.
“That’s one with more to come,” Williams told O’Neill.
Call it a saucy retort to O’Neill’s comments earlier in the week that Williams was “the most protected dude I’ve seen since Michael Jordan,” an implication that Williams was coddled by referees.
But Williams’ prediction proved to be hubristic, as the national player of the year candidate played his worst game of the season, scoring a season-low eight points while his No. 10 Wildcats were upset by the Trojans, 65-57, before a rocking 6,857 at the Galen Center.
O’Neill said what he said to distract Williams, but also to make a point with officials, his main beef being that Williams averaged a nation-leading 9.2 free throws per game.
Williams, whose streak of 36 straight games scoring in double digits was snapped, shot only two against USC.
“Wow,” O’Neill said, grinning in his news conference. “Amazing how that happens.”
It’s the fourth win in five games for USC, 16-12 overall and 8-7 in Pacific 10 Conference play, and the third time the Trojans have knocked off a ranked team, the others being Texas and Tennessee.
Arizona (23-5, 12-3) lost for the fourth time in five trips to the Galen Center and lost an opportunity to head into Saturday’s game at UCLA a win away from a Pac-10 title.
The Trojans won as they have all season: with defense.
USC improved to 11-0 when holding a team to fewer than 60 points.
“Guys played hard, guys followed the game plan to perfection,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill lavishly praised senior guard Marcus Simmons for his defense on guard Lamont Jones, who scored nine points on three-for-12 shooting, and others.
“He’s the defensive player of the year, not just in this league, but in this country,” O’Neill said of Simmons.
Arizona shot 35.8% (19 for 53) while USC shot 42% (21 for 50).
And USC out-shot Arizona from the free-throw line, 22 for 27 versus 13 for 18.
It was a markedly different performance by USC than in its 82-73 loss in Tucson last month, when the Wildcats twice led by 20.
After that game, USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic was especially angry.
But playing before his father, Borislav, who played professional basketball for 24 years in Europe, the Montenegro native took out that anger, scoring a game-high 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, his Pac-10 leading 17th double-double.
“It’s the first time he’s watched me play live since I’m 16,” Vucevic said. “It meant a lot knowing he was in the crowd watching.”
Vucevic made two free throws with 2 minutes 37 seconds left to tie the score at 56.
USC then blocked two shots on Arizona’s next two possessions.
Vucevic was fouled with 58 seconds left and made two more free throws. The Trojans finished the game on a 15-3 run.
“This one means the most for our confidence,” Vucevic said. “Now we have three wins in a row we can build on and get a better position to make the NCAA tournament.”
USC junior guard Jio Fontan tied his season-best with 21 points.
“Honestly, I think it was good for us to lose,” Williams said. “We were getting too big-headed, thinking we can beat everybody. I’m kind of glad we lost and came down to earth.”
vs. Arizona State, Saturday at the Galen Center, 4:30 p.m. TV: Prime Ticket -- In the final home game for four USC seniors, the Trojans face Arizona State, which is at the bottom of the Pacific 10 standings with a 2-13 league record. USC defeated the Sun Devils in Tempe last month, 63-61.
-- Baxter Holmes