LOS ANGELES Nick Johnson drove the baseline, elevated, and powered a dunk over USC center James Blasczyk about seven minutes into Arizona's 57-46 victory Sunday.
The fact that Blasczyk had 10 inches on Johnson made the slam video-ready. Cue the Kevin Johnson facial over Hakeem Olajuwon for reference.
"I saw an opening and I jumped. Nothing too much more than that," Johnson said.
"Very exciting," Solomon Hill said.
Johnson's slam was the highlight reel moment of the UA's systematic dismantling of USC, a team that while in serious rebuilding mode this season always seems to give the Wildcats trouble here, having won five of the previous six conference games between the two in the Galen Center.
There was never much chance of that happening Sunday.
Recovering nicely from a 65-58 loss to UCLA on Thursday, Arizona (11-5, 2-1) played with a defensive intensity that kept the Trojans from sustaining any sort of attack and controlled the game from the tip, scoring the first eight points and 21 of the first 29. USC was never closer than 10 in final 28 minutes.
USC (5-12, 0-4) made 3 of its first 18 field goal attempts and finished with a 29.3 field goal percentage.
That was about that, and it was about what figured against a Kevin O-Neill-coached team that still prides itself on a clinging man-to-man and includes a pair of 7-footers in the paint.
"No team is going to come in here and score at ease. It's going to be a battle. I'm glad we had enough in our tank to win. When both teams are 3 for 30 from 3, it is not exciting as everyone wants it to be. But I thought our defense was in place. Even on offense we had some really good execution. Sometimes we missed the shots. Sometimes we made them. Our guys were ready to play the game," said UA coach Sean Miller, whose team shot 44 percent.
"I think every coach wants to be able to say to his team that on a night when the ball isn't going in the basket, we have enough fortitude, togetherness, enough belief in our defense, that we can win."
Jesse Perry had 20 points despite being matched against 7-foot Dewayne Dedmon, although it did not hurt that Dedmon got into early foul trouble. Solomon Hill had his third straight double-double 12 points, 11 rebounds and fourth in his last five, and Kyle Fogg had 10 points while making his 111th career start, tying Steve Kerr and Reggie Geary for ninth place in school history.
At the same time, Arizona had 17 turnovers, several when it attempted to force quick offense a USC defense that clogged the passing lanes. The Wildcats have committed t least 15 turnovers in four of their last five games, which irritates Miller.
"When you're playing as many guards (three start) as we are playing, one of the many byproducts you hope you get is high assists, low turnovers. On this trip, turnovers really, really hurt us in both games. We have to get to a point where our older guys take care of the ball and make better decisions," Miller said.
"I'm still kind of mad about the UCLA thing. It would have been better if we had had a sweep. A game like this, I think we should win. I'm still kind of disappointed in the way we played. Turnovers were a big factor. We only have Cal once, at that's at Cal. Guys have to understand that when you are on the road, turnovers are crucial," Hill said.
The trip was also could be seen as teaching point for the UA's highly touted freshmen, who were making their first Pac-12 road trip.
Johnson, one of the most athletic freshmen in the Pac-12, had only one basket other than his dunk, although he added seven rebounds. He was 3 of 15 from the field against UCLA and USC. Freshman Josiah Turner, back in the starting lineup on the trip for the first time since opening day, was 3 for 8.
"I know I haven't been playing the best, but guys have been talking to me, sticking with me "My shot isn't falling. It's just something I have to deal with," said Johnson, who had his two lowest scoring games of the season 2 and 4 points on the trip.
"No pressure. I'm going through my little growing pains that a lot of freshmen go through. That's just something I'm going to have to accept. Coach is letting me know everybody goes through it. I'm not anything special that I wouldn't go through it. I knew it was going to come. It's just getting through it now."
Miller understands the adjustments his players must make to a bigger, more physical game, having been these himself, and believes all his freshmen, including big man Angelo Chol, are on the right track.
"The first thing is, the other coach runs plays and there are huge bodies to screen. In high school, you are virtually the same size as everybody, and screening is not nearly as big a part of that game. It's more sophisticated than I've got my man, you've got your man," Miller said.
"The second thing is, with the size difference, everything around the rim is harder. Jumping up over people isn't as easy as it once was, no matter how talented you are. There is an adjustment with size on both offense and defense. But I think all three of our freshman have a great attitude, and that is the most important thing."
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