LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe tallied a career-high 27 points to lead an impressive offensive effort as Arizona posted a 74-61 win over host USC, Sunday afternoon in Pac-10 play at the Galen Center.
Two days ago, Arizona shot a season-low 22 percent from the field and tallied just 39 points in a 19-point loss to UCLA. Fast forward a little less than 72 hours and the Wildcats turned those numbers completely around.
Arizona scorched the nets for a season-best .605 shooting percentage, connecting on 26-of-43 field goals. The Wildcats also tallied their second highest point total of the season and most since recording 71 against the Trojans at McKale Center exactly one month ago.
The shooting numbers were in stark contrast to a pair of other columns on the stat sheet. The Wildcats were outrebounded, 43-33, and allowed a staggering 30 boards on the offensive end to the Trojans. Arizona also committed 28 turnovers that led to 27 USC points.
Poor shooting by USC turned the tables for the Wildcats as the Trojans were a woeful 24-of-82 (.293) from the field and 9-of-37 (.243) from three-point range. The Trojans also committed 21 turnovers and the Wildcats were efficient in creating 24 points off of those miscues.
A 5-for-5 start by Ify Ibekwe highlighted a 12-for-14 (.857) opening 15 minutes of play as the Wildcats built a 26-19 lead. Despite committing eight turnovers during that stretch, the Wildcats forced 11 giveaways and limited USC to a 7-for-24 (.292) clip.
The Wildcats used a 10-0 run to build a 30-19 lead over a 3:44 stretch. Ibekwe connected on the first two buckets, then added the final two points of the stretch while USC committed six turnovers and missed seven-straight shots before a jumper by Ashley Corral at the 2:35 mark broke the run.
Any momentum the Wildcats carried with their 32-26 halftime lead was gone within the opening 3:04 of the second half. Arizona committed four early turnovers, made just 1-of-3 shots and allowed USC to two more offensive rebounds to produce a 9-2 start and a 35-34 lead for the Trojans.
A tongue-lashing from head coach Niya Butts woke the Wildcats up and produced a quick response. Courtney Clements drilled a three-ball in the corner, then Ibekwe produced a steal and a conventional three-point play to regain a 40-35 cushion.
A jumper by Nadia Parker at the 14:38 mark drew the Trojans within a bucket at 43-41, but the Wildcats seized control of the game to build a lead they would not relinquish. Amina Njonkou drove the lane for a scooping lay-up that sparked a game-clinching 11-0 scoring run over the next 4:52. Ashley Frazier finished off the run with a transition lay-up as the Wildcats eventually stretched the lead to as much as 18 and never let the lead slip below double digits.
Ibekwe hit 10-of-14 field goal attempts and all seven of her free throws while also pulling down eight rebounds and grabbing three steals. Frazier, Clements and Njonkou each had 12 points while Faihza Hill had nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Heather Oliver tallied 15 points to lead USC (12-11, 6-6), but they all came down the stretch after the Cats had put the game away. Brynn Cameron tallied 13 points while Nadia Parker had 9 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Arizona (10-14, 3-10) returns home for a three-game homestand, starting on Saturday, February 21 against in-state rival Arizona State with tip-off scheduled for 2 p.m.
Though I’m happy for Arizona, I’m shocked that USC let another one slip through its fingers. They are now 12-11 and 6-6 in the Pac-10.
Supporters of Coach Mark Trakh will point to the number of injuries team members have sustained over the last several years as to why the Trojans always seem to underachieve. Mark Trakh critics will point to the other NCAA teams (Cal, Tennessee, etc) which see significant player injuries but still keep rolling on to wins.
Is it bad player rotation by the coach into the game? Is it mental collapses on the court? What is it?? And what should be done about it??
In other shocks, North Carolina State beat #15 Virginia on this final day of breast cancer awareness weekend; I suppose that was fitting.
Unranked LSU beat #11 Florida, and Maryland whooped Rutgers, 67-47 (the Scarlet Knights is another case where I wonder what is going on).