Arizona Basketball

PAC-12 TOURNEY NOTEBOOK: USC ready to use “physicality” on defense against Arizona

USC celebrates after its win over Arizona at the Galen Center in Los Angeles last week (USC photo)

LAS VEGAS — USC believes its defense can supplement its offense once again when the Trojans face Arizona for the second time in five days Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals at the T-Mobile Arena.

The ninth-seeded Trojans (15-17) play No. 1 Arizona (24-7) at noon on Thursday. USC defeated Washington 80-74 in an opening-round game Wednesday.

USC upset Arizona 78-65 last weekend at the Galen Center in Los Angeles after forcing the Wildcats into 18 turnovers and limiting them to 38.7 percent shooting from the field, 28.6 percent from 3-point range.

Arizona never got into an offensive flow against USC after clinching the Pac-12 regular-season title with an 88-65 win at UCLA — a game in which they shot 51.9 percent from the field and committed only nine turnovers.

While some may think Arizona played with a hangover after winning the title, USC believes its defense was the reason for the Wildcats looking out of sorts.

USC forward Kobe Johnson was asked in the press conference after the Trojans defeated Washington on Wednesay what he liked about his team’s defense against Arizona.

“I think our physicality,” Johnson said of USC’s switching man-to-man and zone defenses. “I think we came out into that game very physical and we matched their pressure.

“I think we’ve got to come out (Thursday), just apply the pressure and physicality to them right away because I felt like last game we did a perfect job shutting down their best players with physicality. As long as we do that, we’ll be in a good spot to do it again.”

Johnson tied his career-high with six of USC’s 15 steals in the game.


USC guard Boogie Ellis, who had 25 points to eclipse 2,000 for his career in Wednesday’s win over Washington, was asked about what excites him to play Pac-12 Player of the Year Caleb Love again after facing him last week.

“I’m just here trying to get a win,” Ellis said. “I don’t really care about none of that stuff. I just care about winning.”

Ellis, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, now has 2,002 points in his career.

He had five points on 1-of-8 shooting in last week’s win over Arizona.

Ellis was asked what was the difference in Wednesday’s game against Washington compared to that of his performance against Arizona.

“Just made shots,” he said with a laugh.


Matt Muehlebach, still the only player from Arizona to record a triple-double in the Pac-12 tournament, hails from Stilwell, Kansas, which is about 35 miles south of Kansas City — site of the Big 12 tournament in which Arizona will visit at least through the 2030-31 season.

Muehlebach will broadcast Thursday’s USC-Arizona and UCLA-Oregon games for Pac-12 Networks and then be a studio analyst for the rest of the tournament.

I asked Muehlebach, who has worked games for FS1 this season, what his thoughts were about Arizona playing in Kansas City in the Big 12 tournament starting next season.

He mentioned it was good and bad — good because that’s where he is from and bad because of the Pac-12 disbanding. He also said it’s better to have the Big 12 tournament at Kansas City than Big 12 locales.


USC has won four straight games and six of their last eight after Ellis and freshman guard Isaiah Collier became healthy and started to lift the Trojans.

The two losses in that span were to potential NCAA tournament team Colorado in double overtime at Los Angeles and at Pac-12 second-place team Washington State. USC led that game in Pullman, Wash., until the last 2:30.

In January, Ellis (hamstring) and Collier (broken hand) nursed injuries and fifth-year senior Joshua Morgan became sick and lost 15 pounds, according to USC coach Andy Enfield.

“When you play without your two leading scorers (Ellis and Collier) that happen to be your two playmakers, it became very challenging,” Enfield said. “We didn’t score 70 points for six straight games and lost six in a row.

“When they got back healthy, they’ve been impressive because they’ve improved quickly, and we are playing well. I’m really proud of our guys. This is a much better basketball team than we started the season and also throughout the year. And they’ve improved dramatically on both sides of the ball.”


USC has the sons of LeBron James (Bronny) and Dennis Rodman (DJ) on its roster.

DJ Rodman, a former Washington State standout, had one of his best games of the season against Arizona last week to complement the production of Johnson (19 points) and Collier (16).

Rodman finished with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.

Bronny James had five points and six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

LeBron James is expected to attend Thursday’s game with the Lakers off until Saturday.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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