Azuolas Tubelis, No. 8 Arizona bounce back to beat USC
No. 8 Arizona has won a lot of games this season due to the excellence of forward Azuolas Tubelis and that continued on Thursday in an 87-81 win over USC.
Tubelis had 25 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block.
His constant scoring presence combined with a solid Arizona defensive outing in the first half just never really let the night get too dramatic.
Tubelis scored eight points in the game’s first seven minutes to have Arizona up one. Later in the first half, Tubelis produced all six points of a 6-2 run to put the Wildcats up 10 with 5:44 on the clock in the opening period.
After a Kerr Kriisa jumper had the Arizona edge at 11 early in the second half, Tubelis contributed the Wildcats’ next four baskets for eight points to keep the lead in that range.
Key buckets from Arizona’s Cedric Henderson Jr. and Kylan Boswell extended the Wildcats’ advantage to 16 points with under seven minutes to go, and that ultimately was too much ground for USC to make up, even though it got within nine at 3:13 to go and five at 36 seconds remaining.
USC scored 50 points in the second half to make it closer than it should have been. Senior guard Boogie Ellis had an overall game-high 35.
Tubelis, the conference’s leader in points and rebounds per game, had previously been going through his worst stretch of the season. Across his last four appearances, the junior averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a night. He struggled with foul trouble in some of those fixtures, failing to go above 22 minutes in three of the four contests.
Thursday was Tubelis’ eighth game of the season with at least 25 points. That ties Bennedict Mathurin for the second-most outings for a Wildcat in one season since 2010, per Stathead. Deandre Ayton did it 11 times in 2018.
Oumar Ballo (10 points), Courtney Ramey (16), Kriisa (11), and Boswell (14) were also in double figures for Arizona.
The win was key for the Wildcats in seeding for the Pac-12 Tournament, clinching them the No. 2 slot. Both Arizona and USC entered the night 13-5 in conference play, but with Arizona’s win, it now owns the first tiebreaker of head-to-head record with a 2-0 sweep of the Trojans this season. USC is now the three seed.
Arizona wraps up regular season play on Saturday versus No. 4 UCLA, who is locked in as the Pac-12 Tournament’s top seed. The Wildcats beat the Bruins 58-52 on Jan. 21 in the first meeting between the two teams and there very well could be a third in the Pac-12 Tournament final.