Arizona tries to win its fifth straight Pac-12 road game when it visits USC on Thursday night. The Wildcats have won six of their last eight games, including a victory over the Trojans in Tucson on Feb. 6. USC has dropped five of its last seven contests.
The Wildcats enter Thursday’s game sitting at 9-5 in conference play, a game behind first-place Arizona State. Unfortunately for Arizona, there are three teams — Colorado, Oregon and UCLA — between it and the Sun Devils, all tied at 10-5. Despite its recent slump, USC is sitting at 8-7 in league play, alone in sixth place in the standings.
Arizona is a five-point favorite on the road in this one, with the over/under set at 138.5.
On a team led by freshmen, there is going to be some inconsistency throughout the season. Coach Sean Miller knows this as well as any coach in college basketball, yet he has his team a win away from his 13th 20-win season in 16 years as a head coach.
Forward Zeke Nnaji leads the Arizona charge, averaging 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 in double-doubles with 12. Nnaji has turned up his work on the boards in Pac-12 play, leading the conference with 9.4, and the freshman is shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Point guard Nico Mannion is having a great first collegiate season as well, ranking second in the Pac-12 with 5.44 assists per game to go with his 13.7 points per contest. Another freshman, Josh Green, has turned it on of late, scoring in double-digits in four of the last six games. Green leads the team with 42 steals and is the only power conference freshman averaging at least 11 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals this season.
Young And Old
USC has its own star freshman in forward Onyeka Okongwu, but it also has a pair of senior starters who are averaging in double figures in scoring. Okongwu is leading the Trojans in both scoring (16.7 points) and rebounding (8.9), and he teams with 6-11 senior forward Nick Rakocevic (11 points, 8.5 rebounds) to form one of the better frontcourt duos in the Pac-12.
Rakocevic is coming off a game against Utah Sunday in which he could only go five minutes due to a stomach virus. Rakocevic has lost 10 pounds due to the illness, but he’s expected to be a full-go against the Wildcats.
Senior guard Jonah Mathews has also been dealing with the illness, though he was able to play 23 minutes against the Utes. Mathews will be needed against Arizona, as he averages 12.9 points and has hit a team-high 60 three-pointers this season. Freshman guard Ethan Anderson doesn’t look to score much, but he runs the Trojans’ offense, averaging 4.3 assists per game.
Shootout In SoCal
The first meeting between these two teams ended 85-80 in favor of the Wildcats. That’s the most points the Trojans have given up in conference play, as they are allowing just 66.4 points per game against league opponents.
Look for Arizona to have another good offensive game, as the young stars for both teams should excel. Both teams need this game for their postseason hopes, but I see the Wildcats winning and covering the five-point spread. I’m going with Arizona -5.