USC loses to Arizona and ones who got away
Reporting from Tucson
Rotten irony, cruel fate or bad karma, USC can’t be sure.
But two of its former recruits, two players whose signature on 2009 letters of intent officially made them Trojans, ended up at Arizona and beat them Saturday.
Derrick Williams and Lamont Jones each made all six of his shots against the team they nearly joined, and led Arizona to an 82-73 victory at the McKale Center.
Williams, a superstar sophomore forward from La Mirada High who has become a national player-of-the-year candidate, scored a game-high 20 points, including 17 in the second half.
The 6-foot-8 forward was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble and an injured right pinkie that was heavily wrapped, but he maintained his usual efficiency, making three three-point shots.
“It isn’t like he cut his hand off,” said USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic, who led USC with 18 points.
“He’s a good player and we still have to guard him just the same even if he has his hand wrapped.”
Jones, a guard from New York City, scored 17 points, helping Arizona (18-4, 7-2 in Pacific 10 Conference play) earn a sweep against the Los Angeles schools.
USC associate head coach Bob Cantu, who recruited both players, shook his head for most of the second half, when Arizona kept USC (12-10, 4-5) at a double-digit distance, its lead growing to 20.
“I wonder what they would be like without them and what we would be like with them,” Cantu said.
The two were released from their letters of intent with USC around the time former USC coach Tim Floyd abruptly resigned and the NCAA began investigating alleged improper benefits to former USC player O.J. Mayo.
Arizona scooped them up, along with forward Solomon Hill, another 2009 recruit for USC.
“There’s no use crying over spilled milk,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said.
USC could cry about its defense, which allowed the Wildcats to shoot a season-high 61.2% (30 for 49) from the field, which was also the highest of any USC opponent this season.
“We didn’t play defense at all,” said USC senior guard Donte Smith, who scored 14 points.
Arizona led by nine at halftime and made two three-point jumpers early in the second half to lead by 15. USC played catch-up from there.
“I felt like we played like women,” Vucevic said. “We didn’t play hard at all. Every single one of us just played like women.”
The Trojans fell to 2-9 this season when allowing an opponent to shoot more than 40% from the field.
USC shot well overall — 46.6% — but not from the free-throw line, where it made only 13 of 25, or from three-point range, where it made two of 15 until making four late ones.
The Trojans didn’t credit Arizona’s talent or depth — both of which USC is short on — as much as they blamed themselves.
“We beat Arizona State and we thought we were a great team and could beat anybody,” Vucevic said. “It happens every time we get a big win. It’s got to stop.”
Why does it keep happening? Smith isn’t sure.
“We get relaxed when we get one win,” Smith said. “I don’t know why it’s like that. I remember last year, we went on a nine-game winning streak.
“I just don’t get it.”
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