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No ghosts of UCLA: Arizona Wildcats bounce back with rout of USC

Solomon Hill

Solomon Hill drives on USC’s Aaron Fuller in the second half. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller, within seconds upon sitting down for his postgame interview, launched a counter-strike to anyone who might have been hitting the panic button after his team’s loss to UCLA on Thursday night.

There was no hangover for the Cats, who quickly dismissed USC on Saturday, burning rubber at the start and flattening the Trojans 74-50 at McKale Center.

“It’s not very easy at all to leave a disappointing loss like we had against UCLA with the incredible crowd we had and the momentum we had going into that game,” Miller said.

“When it doesn’t go your way, sometimes it can lead into the next game or the next day, especially in today’s world when you have so many outside forces pulling a team apart, especially once you lose.

“It’s like, ‘Now they lost, watch this.’ Our team stuck together. We had a good day yesterday, a very good day today. All of the things and qualities that have gotten us to this point were in place in today’s game.”

Arizona led 6-0, 18-4, 29-7 and pushed the lead to 31 by halfway through the second half. The Wildcats held USC to 28.1 percent shooting (18 of 64), and the Trojans were fortunate to climb that high, taking advantage of Arizona’s walk-on lineup in the final couple of minutes to hit five late shots.

But the game wasn’t much about USC or any of the daily matchups.

It was about Arizona putting to rest the ghosts of the UCLA game.

Being able to bounce back emotionally? Miller took that one from the top.

The painfully slow 21-5 start against UCLA? Well, Arizona reversed that quite nicely, making all the near-gimme shots that failed to fall early against the Bruins.

UCLA’s near 50-percent shooting? Arizona answered that, too, with what Miller called as fine a defensive effort from his team all season.

“I think we knew after the UCLA game that we really wanted to come out and really attack them on defense, get a lot of stops,” said freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski. “I think we did that tonight.

“We had a rough start (against UCLA) and Coach really stressed that in the locker room before the game. That start tonight really helped us carry momentum through the entire game.”

Arizona improved to 17-2 overall, 5-2 in the league, and Miller said Saturday marked a return to form of the defense that carried the team to a perfect non-conference mark.

The Wildcats, for the season, are allowing teams to shot 39.9 percent.

“We were ready to defend,” said Miller, whose team held USC to its season-low in points.

“Why we were 12-0 when our conference season began is because we were able to defend some very good teams. And as our offense grows and improves, you can see us becoming a very good team.

“If we pick and choose defensively, or if that’s not in place, I think we’re also very vulnerable in many areas. It starts with that consistent, tough-minded defense.”

Arizona hasn’t always played like a top 10 team, but 17-2 is 17-2 and Miller has never criticized this team’s work ethic or practice habits.

Others might shoot up emergency flares after a loss, but Miller sends off the vibe that he likes this team (not always the case last season) and its potential over the next couple of months.

“You see how well we bounced back from that loss,” Tarczewski said.

“Hey, we’re 17-2. We’re happy where we are right now. We’re a great team. We obviously have a lot to improve on, but that comes with time.”

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