Derrick Williams couldn’t keep his head in Thursday night’s game.
Perhaps images of a taunting USC Coach Kevin O’Neill danced around inside it while, chillingly enough, 2,000 grinning O’Neill bobbleheads looked on from within the crowd.
Yes, O’Neill was everywhere. And Williams, Arizona’s star sophomore forward, couldn’t seem to shake him or his comments earlier in the week that Williams was “the most protected dude I’ve seen since Michael Jordan,” a claim that referees coddle Williams.
In the end, O’Neill’s mind games with Williams worked in USC’s 65-57 upset of No. 10 Arizona at the Galen Center, as Williams had his worst game of the season, scoring eight points, far short of his 19.7 average.
“That stuff can backfire on you big time,” O’Neill acknowledged Friday, one day before USC (16-12, 8-7 in Pacific 10 Conference play) plays host to Arizona State (10-17, 2-13). “We were fortunate he didn’t have a big night.”
After the game, in which Williams shot only two free throws, far from his nation-leading 9.2 average, the Arizona star said O’Neill’s words didn’t bother him, but that they did change how the game was officiated.
“I think the refs did listen to what he had to say,” Williams said, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
A glance at Williams’ Twitter feed would indicate Williams listened too. After O’Neill’s comments were posted Tuesday, Williams denied that he was protected, saying, “Just stop fouling me and we will be good.”
Then Williams later tweeted he was going to shoot an Arizona school-record 23 free throws against USC “just because!”
He also tweeted that someone told him he was 16 free-throw attempts from Arizona’s single-season record: “Let’s get that against USC hahaha.”
No records were broken. The crowd chanted “over-rated!” and the 15 NBA scouts in attendance were left with his so-so showing.
O’Neill said he has great respect for Williams, a former La Mirada High star and onetime USC recruit who had many friends and family members at Thursday’s game.
“Derrick is a young guy and his maturing process will take a little time,” O’Neill said, adding, “I would hope Derrick isn’t taking anything personally.”
O’Neill is glad for the win, though, since it was perhaps the biggest hurdle remaining on USC’s schedule.
“It puts us in a position where now we’re playing for something big,” he said. “We weren’t in that position before the game.”
Griffin in the house
Clippers star forward Blake Griffin sat courtside at the game along with teammates DeAndre Jordan and Randy Foye. Griffin went into USC’s locker room after the game and congratulated the Trojans.