Just two weeks after getting shocked by a surging California team, the Arizona Wildcats (23-4, 11-4) have found themselves back on track.
They will have to stay that way in order to get through a two-game road trip that may be one of the deadliest in the conference. USC (12-15, 7-7) will host Arizona on Wednesday night and it will be followed by a trip to UCLA (20-7, 10-4) for what may be the game that decides the conference title.
Arizona is in the hunt for the regular season Pac-12 championship due in large part to its ability to sweep the Washington schools.
Arizona's attention will now turn to USC, which sits at seventh in the conference standings with a 7-7 Pac-12 record. They were just 2-2 in conference play when Kevin O’Neill was fired as Head Coach.
Bob Cantu took over for the Trojans and has held them at a steady pace, going 5-5 in the ten games as Interim Head Coach. He has been tasked with a tall order, but it hasn’t been pure dread for him and his team.
USC dropped three of the first four games with Cantu at the helm, including a 24-point drubbing by Arizona in Tucson.
However, to their credit, the Trojans didn’t fold. They bounced back from the loss and upset UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, starting a four-game winning streak. The Bruins got revenge this past weekend, handling the Trojans easily in a sixteen-point victory.
Jio Fontan was one of the biggest factors for the Trojans in their loss to the Wildcats. The redshirt senior scored a team-high nine points in the game. His point guard numbers were poor though as he had just a single assist to four turnovers. Fontan also made just two three-pointers, but got his other three points at the free throw stripe.
The leading scorer for USC is redshirt senior Eric Wise. He is averaging just less than twelve points per game, but was shut down against the Wildcats in the first trip. In Tucson, Wise had just five points, shooting just 25-percent from the floor. The senior led the team in rebounds with six, but did little else to help his team.
DeWayne Dedmon will join Wise in the front court. He was another player that was completely cold on the offensive end in McKale Center. Dedmon grabbed five rebounds, but was held scoreless. The center was in foul trouble for most of the game, but still managed to block three shots in seventeen minutes of action.
Junior guard J.T. Terrell is continuing to heat up in the latter parts of the season. Terrell was held in check against Arizona, scoring just three points, but that is one of his lowest scoring conference games of the year. Terrell has been on fire the past two games, scoring seventeen points in each. He will be a player that the Wildcats will have to keep quiet in order to achieve the same outcome as the first meeting.
Byron Wesley is the final piece of the puzzle for the Trojans. The guard is the only double-figure scorer besides Wise and Terrell. He is a key scorer for USC, but can be erratic at times. He hit just two shots out of the ten he took in McKale Center en route to eight points. Wesley is another player that can be dangerous if he catches fire.
With the coaching change, one player that has seen more playing time is Renaldo Woolridge. Over the past few weeks, Woolridge has been getting more opportunities and that should not change against Arizona. The Wildcats will need to be prepared for Woolridge as he did have success in the first matchup.
USC is sitting in the perfect position for an upset bid. Arizona is just bouncing back from a sweep at home and will be taking just three days to prepare for the Trojans. The game can turn into a trap for the Wildcats if they start looking ahead to the UCLA game on Saturday.
Arizona will need to stay focused in order to leave the Galen Center with a win on Wednesday. It has been known for the slow starts in the past few months, but an aggressive opening could be enough to keep the Wildcats focused on the win.