Hard to Believe I: No. 4 Arizona has not played at USC in more than two years (Jan. 3, 2020 is the last time) because of COVID-19 protocol canceling last year’s game at Los Angeles.
COVID-19 protocol is still affecting this series with the originally-scheduled Dec. 31 matchup at USC postponed and then rescheduled for Sunday. Tip-off is at 4 p.m. with the game available on a USC live stream and also live on radio at KTUC (1400-AM).
No fans other than family members of the players will be present because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Hard to Believe II: Arizona (11-0, 1-0 Pac-12) has won its last five games against USC dating to Adia Barnes’ second season in 2017-18. The Wildcats were 1-8 against the Trojans in the games preceding Barnes’ hire before the 2016-17 season and are 6-2 since with both losses at USC in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
Arizona is off to its second-best start in program history, only behind the 2019-20 season (13-0).
— Arizona Women's Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) January 8, 2022
The Trojans (7-4, 0-1) are in their first season under former Cal head coach and Cleveland Cavaliers assistant Lindsey Gottlieb.
Gottlieb spent eight seasons (2012-19) as the head coach at California, posting a 179-89 (.668) overall record and advancing to the NCAA tourney all but once. Seven of her teams won at least 20 games, including the 2013 team that went 32-4 (a school record for wins) and made it to the program’s first-ever NCAA Final Four.
She was the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year and a Naismith National Coach of the Year finalist and was just the seventh NCAA women’s coach since 1990 to reach the Final Four in the first two seasons of being hired.
She was 11-2 against Arizona at Cal, including 5-1 against Barnes.
USC is coming off a 71-58 loss at unbeaten Colorado on Friday. A special note of that game: Arizona’s two-time All-Pac-10 selection Felecity Willis in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 was one of the referees.
Sophomore forward Jordyn Jenkins led USC with 14 points and freshman forward Bella Perkins had 10 to lead the Trojans against Colorado. Perkins made both of the Trojans’ 3-point attempts. They went 2 for 12 from beyond the arc.
Shaina Pellington may return to the starting lineup against USC, according to Barnes, after she did not attend Friday’s game at McKale Center against Washington State for an undisclosed reason. Barnes did mention that because of COVID-19 testing, it might be inevitable that players do not play on weekends and the team must adjust. Helena Pueyo made her second career start in her place and scored 12 points with two assists and no turnovers in 36 minutes in the Wildcats’ 60-52 victory.
Arizona’s injured post player Lauren Ware (dislocated knee) has been out since Arizona’s Dec. 9 against North Dakota State. She was not in uniform for Friday’s game. Her status is questionable; no timetable has been set for her return.
An interesting note about USC: None of its starters are from California.
Arizona — Adia Barnes achieved her 100th win at Arizona on Friday night in her sixth season at her alma mater. Her record is 100-66 (which is also her career mark). Making that record especially impressive is the fact that Barnes started 20-40 in her first two seasons of rebuilding the program. She reached 100 wins faster than any other coach in program history at 166 games. Joan Bonvicini held the former record at 181 games. With three more wins, Barnes will trail only Bonvicini for the most wins in Arizona history. Bonvicini was 287-223 from 1991-2008 and Niya Butts was 102-147 from 2008-16.
USC — Lindsay Gottlieb is in her first season at USC after coaching eight years at Cal and three years at UC Santa Barbara before that. Gottlieb is 242-132 in her 12th season as a head coach including records of 7-4 with the Trojans, 179-89 with Cal and 56-39 with UC Santa Barbara.
WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL
— Arizona senior forward Sam Thomas leads the Pac-12 with a 3.9 assist/turnover ratio (31 assists, eight turnovers). She recorded a career-high eight assists against Washington State on Friday. Sophomore guard Helena Pueyo is seventh at 2.8 (31 assists with 11 turnovers).
— The Wildcats rank second in the Pac-12 with 17.1 assists per game. Eight different Wildcats are averaging at least 5.0 points per game, making them one of just three teams in the league with at least eight players averaging five or more points.
— Cate Reese entered Arizona’s top 10 career scoring list on Friday night with 20 points (she’s at 1,306 through 106 games). She also became the 10th Wildcat to reach 1,300 career points.
Arizona Career Scoring Leaders
— USC entered last week ranked No. 3 in the nation among Division I teams with 7.3 blocks per game average. That’s thanks in part to freshman Rayah Marshall’s 2.4 blocks per game, which ranked her No. 18 in the nation. Earlier this season, Marshall had six blocks against Central Florida to tally the fifth most single-game blocks by a Trojan.
— USC forward Jordan Sanders ranks seventh in the Pac-12 with 2.0 steals per game and USC ranks fifth as a team with 8.9 a game.
WHEN USC HAS THE BALL
— The Trojans are balanced with four players averaging at least 9.1 points a game — Jordan Sanders (11.9), Jordyn Jenkins (11.4), Marshall (10.4) and Alissa Pili (9.1).
— USC ranks second-to-last in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (41.3) but the Trojans rank second in offensive rebounds a game (13.9) so they follow their missed shots well.
— As of Friday’s games, Arizona is sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense (33.1), sixth in scoring defense (49.9), 11th in blocked shots per game (6.2) and 16th in steals per game (12.5).
— Bendu Yeaney ranks second in the Pac-12 with 2.3 steals per game with 25. Helena Pueyo is fifth at 2.1 totaling 23. Arizona is second in the league averaging 12.5 steals a game.
— Thomas’ 184 blocked shots in 136 games ranks second in Arizona history behind the late Shawntinice Polk, who had 222 blocked shots in 94 games from 2003-05. Thomas is also No. 5 in steals with 237.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District