Arizona went from one of its best quarters of the season in the opening 10 minutes to three of its most frustrating in an 81-64 loss to No. 10 USC on Monday night in Los Angeles.
The Wildcats led 14-13 after the first quarter behind a defense that limited USC touted freshman JuJu Watkins to six points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field.
It was all USC (18-4, 8-4 Pac-12) mostly afterward with the Trojans outscoring Arizona 69-51 in the last three quarters.
Watkins finished with 32 points, seven rebounds and four assists. She shot 9 of 23 from the field while making all 12 of her free-throw attempts.
Most of her execution was against a box-and-one defense utilized by Arizona, especially in the first half.
“We really slowed them down in the first quarter,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes on the 1290-AM postgame show. “We tried the box-and-one. … (Watkins is) just really hard to guard for us.”
Arizona (12-12, 4-8) has lost seven of its last nine games while falling to 2-7 on the road.
The Wildcats also experienced injuries to starters Jada Williams (leg) and Esmery Martinez (back).
Both were writhing in pain when their injuries occurred in the fourth quarter. Martinez exited to the locker room late in the game.
“Jada’s a trooper; she’ll play through anything,” Barnes said. “She’s tough and has a great mentality. She just fights regardless what happens.
“Martinez, I’m not sure (of her status). She went out of the game and I didn’t see her again. I’m not sure with her back, but I know her back was bothering her before. I am hoping she is okay because we need her.”
Four players scored in double figures for Arizona, led by 13 points each from freshman Skylar Jones and Martinez. Kailyn Gilbert had 11 points in 19 minutes off the bench and Williams finished with 10 points.
Arizona shot 39.1 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range.
The Wildcats were outrebounded 34-29 after leading in that category 17-11 at halftime.
USC started to assert itself toward the end of the second quarter, outscoring the Wildcats 9-2 to take a 37-33 halftime lead.
The Trojans pulled away in the third quarter with a 23-11 scoring edge.
Watkins nearly outscored Arizona on her own in the quarter with nine points behind five free throws.
Kayla Padilla, a transfer from Penn, made five 3-pointers to finish with 15 points for the Trojans.
Jones’ 13 points are the most for her this season. She was 3 of 9 from the field, 2 of 3 from 3-point range and made 5 of 6 from the free-throw line.
“Skylar was doing everything well,” Barnes said. “She was 3 for 9, which I don’t care about. She went to the rim. She played tough defense. She’s really sick right now. She fought.
“She played 36 minutes. She showed us toughness. … I think she did some great things and gave some great minutes.”
Arizona returns to McKale Center, where it is 8-3 this season, with games against Washington State and Washington on Friday and Sunday, respectively. Tipoff against the Cougars on Friday is at 6 p.m. and against the Huskies the game is at noon on Sunday.
Barnes mentioned she wants to see improved teamwork with players caring less about their minutes played and more about the team.
“I think worried about the team versus playing minutes — ‘Why am I coming out? Why am I going in?’ — I think there is a lot of that right now. A lot of people are coming in and forcing shots. That’s not how we’re going to win.
“If we continue to do that, we won’t win. If we change our mentality and it’s more we over me than we have a chance to win. If we’re worried about the wrong stuff and not coming in focused, and thinking of ways to get better, we’re not going to win a lot of games.”