Arizona falls to USC in 1st round of Pac-12 Tournament
The Arizona Wildcats could miss a postseason tournament for the first time since head coach Sean Miller’s first year on the job in 2009-10 with a first-round Pac-12 Tournament loss to the USC Trojans on Wednesday.
The No. 9 seed Wildcats fell to the No. 8 seed Trojans in Las Vegas, 78-65, as Ryan Luther led Arizona with 16 points.
The Trojans started slowly, but went on 18-2 runs in each half to earn a spot in Thursday’s quarterfinals against top-seeded Washington.
USC was paced by senior Bennie Boatright, who scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Derryck Thornton scored 12 points and USC shot 48 percent to bounce the ninth-seeded Wildcats from the Pac-12 tournament after losing to them in the title game a year ago.
The Wildcats fell behind 23-12 midway through the first half before pulling even, 40-all, at halftime. But Arizona’s offense mustered just five points in the first 9:26 of the second half, by which time the Trojans had built a 63-45 lead — one Arizona couldn’t recover from.
“They were playing really hard and when you do that, you disrupt a lot of things,” Arizona’s Ira Lee said.
USC won the teams’ lone meeting this season, rolling over the Wildcats 80-57 at home.
“I thought defensively we picked it up and we were able to challenge most of their shots and rebound the basketball,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.
With no chance at an NCAA Tournament at-large invite with a 17-15 record, the Wildcats are also unlikely to earn an invite to the NIT, which uses some of the same criteria, such as NET rating, as the Big Dance.
Arizona last played in the NIT in 2012 and fell at McKale Center to Bucknell in the first game despite entering the tournament as a No. 1 seed.
If the Wildcats aren’t playing postseason basketball, the attention turns to Miller’s future as he’s reportedly expected to be subpoenaed to appear in the ongoing trial involving corruption in college basketball.
Miller stuck to his stance of not commenting on questions concerning the scandal or his job, saying “No” when asked if he thought this was his last game at Arizona.
“Our room for error was so slight that it really stole our confidence to some degree and didn’t allow us to be maybe the best overall team that we could have been,” Miller said.
Miller thanked fans for their support of his program over the past 10 years following the Wildcats’ regular-season finale on Saturday, a loss to ASU, but the head coach later said that “certainly wasn’t a goodbye speech.”
The federal trial will begin April 22.
USC has another chance to extend its season after shutting down Arizona
Arizona was out of sorts for long stretches in each half and could face a long offseason if it doesn’t get a postseason bid.
USC moves on to face top-seeded Washington the quarterfinals.
Arizona waits to see if it will get an invite to a smaller postseason tournament.
The Associated Press contributed to this story