LOS ANGELES - The swagger from an eight-game winning streak and No. 10 national ranking carried the Arizona Wildcats overboard Thursday. That they agreed on.
Whether it was a good thing they lost 65-57 at USC was another.
Forwards Kevin Parrom and Derrick Williams both said Arizona's disjointed, unfocused loss at Galen Center was a good thing, the kind that can refocus them down the stretch, but ever-competitive UA coach Sean Miller disagreed.
It drove him nuts to see guys miss open shots, fail to pass and fail to defend well against guys like skilled Trojan forward Nikola Vucevic, who had a game-high 25 points while boosting his own case for an NBA first-round pick.
"That's the hard part of juggling this point in the season," Miller said. "A lot of people have been saying (good) things and we've earned the right to get the praise. But you forget you have some really hungry teams awaiting you because of the success you've had. It's hard to finish out a really good season and you can really get distracted on some things that got you to this point. But I credit USC - I thought their defense was terrific. And Vucevic, if he isn't one of the best frontcourt players in the country, I mean, there's very few frontcourt players that are as skilled and rebound as he does."
In the final seconds, the Wildcats were greeted by "over-rated" chants while giddy USC fans stood for the final minutes of what was USC's third straight win over Arizona at Galen Center.
The loss not only snapped Arizona's eight-game winning streak but also dropped the Wildcats to 23-5 overall and 12-3 in the Pac-10. USC improved to 16-12 and 8-7, gaining a needed quality win in its long-shot quest to pick up an NCAA tournament bid.
The Wildcats now cannot clinch the Pac-10 title outright with a win Saturday at UCLA, a winner over ASU on Thursday, but they can still clinch a tie by beating the Bruins.
USC held the Wildcats to 35.8 percent shooting and matched Arizona on the boards, 35-35, while the Wildcats also made just 6 of 19 three-point attempts.
What's more, the Trojans kept Williams to a season-low eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. Williams said it was a combination of facing multiple USC defenders every time he touched the ball, and his own lack of focus that did it.
"I'm not Superman," Williams said. "I'm not Blake Griffin. I'm not going to go for 20 or 30 points every night. That's all I can say."
Indeed, Miller said the Wildcats needed more players to help compensate for Williams, whom Miller said has been "so consistent" all season long.
Instead, the Wildcats had 12 points from Jesse Perry but only one other player in double figures, Parrom with 10.
Arizona had just 17 combined points from perimeter players MoMo Jones, Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill, with a combined assist-turnover ratio of 1-5.
The Wildcats had just two assists setting up their 19 field goals, which stunned Miller.
"That's impossible," Miller said.
Instead, the Wildcats had ill-fated offensive plays, no more obvious than when Jones penetrated inside for layups late in the game and was blocked both times.
"When you drive at the end of the game and you create a crowd, the answer is to pass," Miller said.
The blocks helped USC take over the game despite what was a four-point UA lead late in the game.
Arizona trailed by four entering the final 50 seconds and Fogg managed only 1 of 2 free throws to cut USC's lead to 60-57 with 41 seconds left. Jio Fontan then hit 1 of 2 to put the Trojans back up by four and Parrom and Williams missed shots on UA's next possession.
The Trojans then hung on the rest of the way, with Vucevic making 4 of 4 free throws in the final minute.
USC had crept back into a 56-56 tie entering the final two minutes thanks to two UA mistakes. Williams fouled Vucevic on defense, and Vucevic hit two free throws, and Jones was blocked on an ensuing layup attempt.
The Trojans then went ahead 58-56 on two free throws by Alex Stepheson and Jones was blocked again on another layup attempt with 1:15 left.
Arizona had held a 54-50 lead at the final media timeout of the game, with 3:59 remaining after USC took a 38-34 lead early in the second half.
The Wildcats led by as many as eight points, 21-13, during the first half against the equally poor-shooting Trojans. UA struggled with shooting from the start. The Wildcats made just two of their first eight field goals and tied USC 4-4 at the first media timeout (15:22).
• What: No. 10 Arizona at UCLA
• When: 2 p.m. Saturday
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM