Sean Miller


Thanks to a game at ASU that started late and went into overtime before his team lost, USC interim coach Bob Cantu said he didn't get a whole lot of sleep Thursday night.

It's a wonder he gets any at all these days.

Not only has Cantu spent the past 12 days trying to steer the Trojans off the court as their interim head coach after Kevin O'Neill was fired Jan. 14, but he's also coached in three straight down-to-the-wire games.

Then there's that issue of really bad timing.

In Cantu's first assignment as interim coach, he was asked to deal with first-place Oregon. Then, after a close win over Oregon State, the Trojans faced a brutal three-game road stretch: at ASU, at Arizona and at UCLA.

That stretch became arguably worse Thursday, when No. 6 Arizona lost just its second game of the season, 84-73 to UCLA, and presumably became a bit angrier.

"I know with having a loss, those guys are going to come out with some real intensity," USC point guard Jio Fontan said.

Sure enough, that was the vibe that UA forward Solomon Hill gave off during his postgame interview Thursday.

"We've gotta go back to work," Hill said. "USC is coming for us next."

UA coach Sean Miller was not available for comment Friday, after saying Thursday that a loss can help grab players' attention.

But to Cantu, who walked the Trojans (8-12, 3-4 Pac-12) through a brief practice Friday at UA's Richard Jefferson Gym, it really didn't matter whether Arizona won or lost Thursday. Didn't matter that if UA beat UCLA as expected in Thursday's emotional white-out game, the Wildcats would have been at 17-1 and maybe a bit more susceptible to a letdown.

"It's Arizona," Cantu said. "It'd still be difficult no matter what.

"You can look at it both ways. You also could look at it that if they won, they're excited or they lost and they're tight and nervous because they don't want to lose two in a row. So I don't necessarily think that means anything."

But if UA's mindset might be difficult to figure entering tonight's game, USC's is not.

Just before O'Neill was fired, the Trojans won at Utah to finally start looking like the improved team that added five four-year transfers and received Fontan back from a knee injury that cost him last season.

Then Cantu came in and, with nothing to lose, USC almost knocked off Oregon at home in his first game, beat OSU and then hit 15 of 28 three-pointers on Thursday at ASU.

"They're a very loose group," said UA assistant Book Richardson, who has been scouting the Trojans.

USC also appears to be resilient.

"For the most part, after the game we're mad about it but after a while we kind of let it go," Fontan said. "Guys who were kind of out of sync are starting to play a little better and defensively we've gotta pick it up."

No question defense is also on what Miller called an "A to Z" list of concerns. But so are things like making easy shots after Arizona missed 7 of 10 layups in the first half against UCLA; getting inside help from Kaleb Tarczewski, who went scoreless with one rebound in 15 minutes Thursday; and receiving some playmaking from Mark Lyons after the point guard had no assists and five turnovers Thursday.

"We needed him to play really well (against UCLA) and he didn't," Miller said.

Miller said, there's a need to learn from Thursday, and move ahead without worrying about Oregon's two-game lead over UA or any other big-picture item.

"Our focus has to be so much more on just ourselves and being able to go one game to the next," Miller said. "At 5 o'clock on Saturday, we play USC and we have an opportunity to play better and win. At the end of the game if we're 5-2 and 17-2, we've done some great things.

"What I hope is that (the UCLA) game helps us, that we learn from it and not in a negative light like, 'Uh-oh what's wrong with us.' It's just so hard to win every game. That's where we're at."

On StarNet: Join your fellow Wildcats fans today at 4:30 p.m. for a live chat during the game against USC:


• What: USC at No. 6 Arizona

• When: 5 p.m.

• TV; radio: ESPNU; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)