Arizona Basketball

What the muck? Arizona gets through USC’s style to win going away at Pac-12 Tournament

LAS VEGAS – If it’s true styles make fights, Arizona found a way to get through USC’s style. It’s a good sign moving forward, given teams – smart ones – will try to muck up the game for Arizona.

The Trojans slowed it down. Got physical. Made it tough.

Just like last week when it beat Arizona in a game that had Arizona followers scratching their collective heads.

Arizona graphic

Five days later, Arizona fought – and mucked – back. And survived. Hell, thrived in a70-49 win at T-Mobile Arena in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd joked when he said the outcome was just like “we drew it up” because he didn’t.

“You can’t script it,” he said. “We knew they wouldn’t want to get up and down with us, but you always want to test that.”

It was more like that in the second half, given USC had to find a way to make up the difference that saw them fall behind 28-16 in a game that felt stilted in so many ways.

Fouls. Turnovers. Missed shots.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

“They did a good job of keeping the game slower, but it came down to defense,” Lloyd said. “Stops, stops, stops and then we made a little run at the end of the first half to get a little separation.”

Then came the start of the second half when Arizona played its game because USC couldn’t play its long enough.

The difference from last week to this one?

“You’re going to think this is crazy, we didn’t do one thing different,” Lloyd said. “We just did it better. That’s what it came down to. We just did it better. This time of year, you’re not changing a bunch, just do it better, with more effort, more conviction, and we did that.”

I’ll add this, given he did said Arizona may have let “it’s guard down” and may have been “exposed” on Saturday.

Arizona played with motivation, played with a purpose – and no hangover of a Pac-12 title. And don’t forget the energy. To a man in the postgame locker room, the players talked about energy the UA had coming in.

You could see it in T-Mobile. You could feel it. Of course, the Arizona fans helped.

It also helped KJ Lewis was as aggressive as ever. Oumar Ballo played with his usual defensive aggressiveness. Jaden Bradley pushed the pace to get Arizona going.

Translation: Arizona did what it’s always been tasked to do – be aggressive. Push the pace. (see tweet)

“It was sticking to the gameplan and having that energy and it started with the starting five … and (went to) people coming off the bench,” said Bradley, who had 12 points by going 4 for 4 from the floor and 4 for 4 from the free throw line. “We had that fire and that energy.”

Bradley said seeing what USC did in the last game and being able to prepare for it “was key.”

“We (knew) we’d see a zone and we know how we’d attack it this time,” he said.

Bradley said Lloyd emphasizes pushing the pace and that’s what he does.

“It’s definitely something I try to do,” he said.

It’s difficult to do when you have a team trying to slow it down.

“It’s tough but we have to play our basketball,” Bradley said. “We have to trust it.”

It was about ball movement. Finding open spaces. It saw Arizona go from shooting 38 percent in the first half to shooting 52 percent in the second half. It also hit seven of 19 3-pointers.

Conversely, USC shot 35 percent from the floor and hit just 6 of 22 3s. Arizona got the Trojans out of their comfort zone.

“We obviously wanted to establish ourselves defensively, not just because it was USC and how we played last time,” Lloyd said. “Just because that’s what you’ve got to do this time of year. Our guys came out with a defensive mindset, and offensively we were able to settle into the game. When maybe things weren’t coming easy, we hung with it.”

Oumar Ballow has one of three blocks. He was the difference on defense. (Arizona Athletics photo)

It helped that Ballo was everywhere. He had his 11th double-double in 12 games, finishing with 10 points and 13 rebounds. He added three blocks and two steals.

“When O plays like that – and he has for a long stretch now – he’s an absolute difference maker, a monster,” Lloyd said. “The way he was protecting the rim today allows us to play defense a certain way, the way he was rebounding the basketball, and then the way he was getting fouled and just his physical presence inside, he’s a game-changer. Really proud of him, and I love that he’s doing it on a nightly basis now.”

When asked where this ranks with the other solid games he’s had, Ballo said. “Just one of my many games … I just come out every single game to play hard.”

Just as Arizona did.

“Good win, just how we liked it,” Lloyd said to begin his press conference. “Drew it up perfect.”

Wink, wink.

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