Arizona Takes Down USC In Close Matchup
LOS ANGELES - Arizona hasn't let its No. 1 seed be a source of pressure or overconfidence.
The Wildcats were both sure and strong Friday night in defeating a hot USC team 67-62 in the semifinals of the Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament at Staples Center.
Arizona (27-6) reached the conference tournament title game for the first time since 2005. The Wildcats, who last won the tournament in 2002, will face the winner of the late game between No. 3 seed Washington and No. 7 Oregon.
Arizona coach Sean Miller called it a "total team win." "I told our guys in the locker room that this was our best win of the season," Miller said. "We respect USC a great deal...USC is a team that doesn't go down easily and they didn't tonight."
USC (19-14) is holding out its postseason hopes after winning six of its last eight games. The Trojans played well despite the day's adversity, with the players absorbing the news that head coach Kevin O'Neill was suspended by USC athletic director Pat Haden on Friday. But the Trojans hung tough and closed a 12-point second-half deficit to three points in the closing minutes. USC cut the lead to 63-60 before Arizona nailed down the game in the final seconds.
"I think anybody can see that we can play with anybody in the country," said USC associate head coach Bob Cantu. "All in all, I thought our guys really fought and we've really grown in the last three weeks."
Arizona was able to put the game way with a closing spurt by star Derrick Williams, who scored Arizona's final six points of the game after Jamelle Horne hit a huge 3-pointer with 2:29 to go. Horne's basket put Arizona up 61-55 after USC got within three points.
Williams finished the game with 20 points to lead the Wildcats. Jesse Perry was Arizona's only other scorer in double-figures, but the Wildcats got scoring from eight different players and finished the game with eight 3-pointers.
Williams said he was motivated by struggling against USC in their last matchup. "Doesn't matter about the points, rebounds or assists," Williams said. "As long as we get the win, I'm happy."
USC got a career-high 20 points from senior Marcus Simmons. Simmons was 8 of 11 from the floor, but saw his time limited late in the game by foul trouble. Simmons said the team was "moving forward" after the tumult of the day. Trojans' leading scorer Nikola Vucevic finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds after a slow offensive start. His scoring late in the game propelled USC's near-comeback.
"We came here on a quest to secure the conference tournament championship after the regular-season championship," Miller said. "I thought our last experience when we came to LA, losing to both USC and UCLA, that was part of what helped us. We came here and tried to be better than we were a couple of weeks ago."
• With one steal, Maurice Jones moved into first place on USC's all-time steals list for freshman and also ranks third on USC's all-time single season list.
• USC's Marcus Simmons, the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, scored a career-high 20 points.
• USC's Nikola Vucevic recorded his 21st double-double, which leads the Pac-10.
• Arizona's Derrick Williams has reached double figures in 32 of the 33 games this season and notched more than 20 points for the 15th time.
• Arizona improved to 10-2 in the Pac-10 Tournament as a No. 1 seed and is 6-2 all-time in the semifinals.
• This is the ninth time that the No. 1 seed has made it to the Championship game and the fourth time that Arizona has made it as a No. 1 seed.
• Arizona is 4-1 all-time in the Championship game of the Pac-10 Tournament.
• Arizona improved to 21-1 when outrebounding its opponent.