Arizona Basketball

Arizona uses energy from reserves Lewis & Bradley to beat USC in Pac-12 tournament

KJ Lewis had 15 points and six rebounds to lead Arizona in its win over USC (Gilbert Alcaraz/Special to

LAS VEGAS — Another Pac-12 tournament game, another victory under Tommy Lloyd.

Another game after a loss for Arizona, another win for Lloyd and the Wildcats.

Top-seeded Arizona improved to 7-0 in the Pac-12 tournament under Lloyd, who is in his third season, with its 70-49 victory over No. 9 USC on Thursday at the T-Mobile Arena.

Arizona (25-7) will play Oregon (21-11) in a semifinal game Friday at 5 p.m.

The sixth-ranked Wildcats, who lost to USC 78-65 only five days ago in Los Angeles, improved to 16-0 under Lloyd after suffering an in-season loss.

If factoring a season-opening victory after end-of-season defeats, Arizona is 18-0 under Lloyd.

The Wildcats have gone 104 straight games without losing back-to-back games with Lloyd as coach.

“Well, we were excited,” Lloyd reasoned for Arizona’s bounce-back win against USC. “These guys, they’re more excited than I am because I have a coach’s mind and you’re always trying to analyze everything.

“These guys were ready to go.”

Freshman reserve guard KJ Lewis said Lloyd and his staff deserve the credit for the Wildcats’ ability to show fortitude in the face of adversity following a loss.

“They do a good job with the preparation, getting us prepared for the next game, and not to have us dwell on a loss or a win,” Lewis said. “I think we do a good job of having that next-game, next-task mentality. We showed that today.”

Lewis, a significant factor in the win over USC, has put together two of his best games his freshman season in the last week.

He had a career-high 18 points at UCLA a week ago and scored 15 points with six rebounds against the Trojans on Thursday.

“It’s an important role for our team,” Lewis said about being a sparkplug off the bench. “We’ve got talented players, great leaders. It’s my job coming off the bench to keep the energy or bring it up.”

Jaden Bradley also came off the bench to score 12 points while making all four of his attempts from the field and all four of his free-throw attempts.

Lewis’ four points in the first five minutes of the second half, after Pelle Larsson picked up his third foul and was forced to exit, helped Arizona keep its edge after the Wildcats led 28-16 at halftime.

“I thought KJ in the second half really made a statement,” Lloyd said. “Pelle picked up his third foul and KJ came in and made three or four plays in a row to basically help us grow the lead, which was amazing.”

Arizona closed the first half on a 9-0 run over the last 5:03 of the half to take control of the game.

USC missed its last 10 shots before halftime over a span of 5:49. The Trojans made only three of their last 22 shots over the final 12:49 of the half.

They made 23.3 percent (7 of 30) from the field by halftime.

“We want to make that part of our identity — locking up on the defensive end,” said Pac-12 Player of the Year Caleb Love, who finished with 11 points, three assists and a steal. “We take pride in our one-on-one matchups and I think we did that at a high level today.

“We had our bench guys come in — JB (Bradley) and KJ — and give us a big spark. We need that in March.”

Bradley gave a “shout out” to Lloyd and his teammates for “having that confidence in us (himself and Lewis).”

“Knowing our role, to be a sparkplug, and knowing our starters will set the tone,” Bradley added about how he keeps his mental edge coming off the bench. “We go out there and follow it up and that’s what we did today.”

Oumar Ballo led Arizona with seven points and seven rebounds in the half. He could have scored more but was 3 of 8 from the free-throw line at that point.

The senior post player finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds, his 17th double-double of the season and 31st of his career. He also took it upon himself to bring defensive energy with three blocked shots, including when USC was in transition.

“I had to protect the rim and play with a little more extra energy,” Ballo said. “I have to set the tone (defensively) every game. We pressure the ball and lead everything to me. I have to be the problem-solver.”

USC’s Kobe Johnson made a layup with 9:32 left in the first half to tie the game at 12 after Arizona led 10-4 six minutes in the game.

Arizona built a 19-14 lead with 6:02 remaining in the half following Larsson’s first basket of the game.

Larsson and Love each made a 3-pointer in Arizona’s 9-0 run to end the half.

USC, which never got the game into single-digits, shot 35.7 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers that led to 16 points for Arizona.

“They do a lot of switching (on defense), and they’re a great defensive team,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We played great defense the first half, so did they.”

Boogie Ellis had only six points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field before he fouled out with 7:25 left and Arizona leading 54-32.

“A lot of those shots that went in last Saturday just didn’t fall for us today,” Enfield said. “It’s hard when your leading scorers, especially Boogie, had a tough shooting night.”

Isaiah Collier, who had 16 points in the Trojans’ win over Arizona in Los Angeles, finished with 13 points on Thursday. He had as many turnovers (six) as made field goals, going 6 of 13.

DJ Rodman tied Johnson for the team lead with 19 points in the Trojans’ win over Arizona five days ago. Rodman had only six points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field in Thursday’s game.

“They (USC) did a good job keeping the game slower but it came down to defense,” Lloyd said. “We were able to get stops, stops, stops. And then kind of made a little run at the end of the first half to get a little separation.

“And then these guys did a great job at the start of the second half to extend that.”

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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