Arizona outlasts USC behind demigod Deandre Ayton, take Pac-12 Tourney title


March 10, 2018 by Sam Dodge


Ayton the Titan was too much for USC’s front court. (Galen Central)

LAS VEGAS – Sometimes, you just get a bad matchup. There’s bad matchups, and then there’s Deandre Ayton.

Behind the demigod’s 32 points and 18 rebounds, Arizona turned a 33-30 halftime deficit into a 75-61 victory in the Pac-12 Tournament final. It is their second straight tournament title.

The story of the game starts and stops with Ayton, who won the tournament MVP after consecutive 30-point games against the Los Angeles schools.


His fellow seven-footer Dusan Ristic didn’t hurt either.

The two combined for 48 points, pacing an eight-point advantage in the paint and nine-point advantage is second-chance buckets. The duo seemingly grabbed every rebound, as the Wildcats finished with a 42-19 advantage in rebounds.

Enfield and company showed their respect, with a caveat.

“We fought until the end,” said Nick Rakocevic, “but Ayton just went off.”

“Tip your hat to them,” Enfield added. “Unfortunately, fouls affected the game. Ristic had zero fouls, but Chimmy (Metu) had four. You can’t keep the defensive aggression with that going on.”

While Metu struggled with seven points and three turnovers in 30 minutes, Rakocevic shocked the Arizona-partial crowd with a tremendous first half.

The 6-foot-11 sophomore forward kept up with Ayton, a future NBA superstar. They both tallied 13 points in the first half, and USC actually had more points in the paint at halftime.

In all honesty, none of this was sustainable. Jonah Matthews and Rakocevic both getting double-digits in the first half wasn’t going to last. Their efforts papered over issues until the officials took control.

A tight game turned in the first eight minutes of the second half, where Rakocevic entered with zero fouls and Metu had two. By the second media timeout, Metu had four fouls and Rakocevic had three.

After holding a top-15 Arizona offense to under a point a possession in the first half, the foul trouble gave drivers room. Never was this more evident in Rawle Alkins Pac-12 dunk of the year.

“Our defense played well enough to win,” Enfield said. “Before the fouls, we didn’t have to double the post. Our zone was phenomenal, but our man-to-man just didn’t cut it.”

The defensive improvement has really been stark. Coming into the weekend, especially after the Aaron Holliday blitzkrieg on Mar. 3, USC ranked outside the top-100 in defensive efficiency. After two dominant performances against the Oregon schools, and a scrappy one against Arizona, they climbed 23 spots to the No. 78 spot.

As Dom DeLuise says in History of the World: “Not thrilling, but nice.”

Arizona’s defense was just better. After Elijah Stewart and Matthews found room in the first half, Sean Miller had his guards run shooters off the perimeter. Daring the USC guards to drive into the Ayton-Ristic tandem, the Wildcats held the Trojans to .93 points a possession and only 26 percent shooting from deep.

This game really had to be about the USC backcourt offsetting the size mismatch on the inside.

USC’s problems against opposing big men were bound to continue, and the guards just didn’t hit shots.

“We battled,” Enfield said, “but the shots we hit against Oregon didn’t fall tonight.”

Despite the disappointing finish in Vegas, USC did exactly what they needed to do. They got to the final game and lost to the best team in the conference. Tonight was gravy, and Enfield emphasized how confident he is in his team’s future.

“You try to go to the Oregon schools,” he said, “The mountain schools. Had to go to Arizona schools, but unbalanced schedule hurt us a bit. All the injuries, players out. Thrilled with our effort and how far we’ve come.”

Another trip to Dayton for the First Four may be on the horizon. However, think about all the struggles from this year.

Loss to Princeton. Loss to Washington. Heartbreak in Palo Alto. Swept by UCLA.

After this weekend, at least they have a chance in the dance.


One thought on “Arizona outlasts USC behind demigod Deandre Ayton, take Pac-12 Tourney title

  1. […] You know the rest. Ayton went Super Saiyan, and Rawle Alkins did his best Patrick Chewing impersonation. […]

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