LOS ANGELES (AP) — For all of Arizona’s decorated basketball history, the 2013-14 Wildcats have done something none of their predecessors accomplished.
Brandon Ashley and T.J. McConnell each scored a season-high 19 points and No. 1 Arizona beat Southern California 73-53 Sunday night to improve to 17-0 for the best start in school history.
“We’re really excited about it, we really are,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We talked about it and it’s something I think all of us will really cherish. Any school record you break at Arizona in the basketball program is a real record because of the great tradition that we have.”
The 1931-32 Wildcats held the previous record for best start at 16-0.
“It feels great to know we got the record,” said McConnell, who also had six assists. “But we have to move on because we have another game on Thursday.”
Arizona didn’t pull away and secure the record until the final minutes. The Wildcats led just 34-31 at halftime and 48-43 with nine minutes to play, but then they reeled off an 18-6 run — highlighted by eight points from McConnell — to finally put USC (9-7, 0-3 Pac-12) away.
All in all, Arizona outscored the Trojans 25-10 over the final 8:33 to turn the close game into a rout and improve to 4-0 in the conference.
“We were just trying to stay poised the last few minutes of the game and really just had a defensive mindset to really lock down,” guard Nick Johnson said. “They’re a good team and we knew that coming in. They gave us their best shot and they had us for a little bit, but we rallied back and stayed with it.”
Johnson chipped in 15 points and Aaron Gordon had 12 for the Wildcats, the second straight game they’ve had four players reach double figures in scoring.
Arizona didn’t outrebound its opponent for the first time this season, with each team getting 30 boards apiece. But the Wildcats shot 46.6 percent (27 of 58) from the field, including 50 percent in the second half, to pick up the victory.
Ashley shot 7 of 10 from the field and McConnell was 7 of 12, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, to pace the Wildcats.
“Usually I try to set up the offense and get other people the ball, but tonight they were playing off me and I just hit shots,” said McConnell, a junior point guard. “If they don’t think I can shoot I’m going to try and prove them wrong, and if they close out I’ll go around them and get other people the ball.”
Byron Wesley scored 18 points and reserve Strahinja Gavrilovic added a career-high 10 points to lead the Trojans, who have lost three straight and four of their last six.
The Trojans were held to a season-low 53 points by Arizona, which entered the game allowing the fifth-fewest points per game in the country. USC also took a season-low eight free throw attempts and turned the ball over 18 times.
“We definitely turned the ball over too many times and had too many possessions where we didn’t score,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said. “Against a good team like Arizona, you have to convert … They wore us down a bit. When we cut it to five midway in the second half we had a chance to stay in the game, but we didn’t do that.”
Arizona completed its first road sweep of the conference’s Los Angeles schools since 2004-05, having beaten UCLA 79-75 Thursday night.
USC was playing its first game against a No. 1 ranked team since February 2004, when they fell to Stanford 76-67. The Trojans’ last victory over a top-ranked team came nearly 44 years ago when they beat UCLA 87-86 on March 6, 1970.
Lakers guard Nick Young, a USC alum, and forward Jordan Hill, an Arizona alum, were in attendance together at the Galen Center. They were joined by former Lakers forward Luke Walton (Arizona alum) and former USC and NFL quarterback Matt Leinart.
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