For the past two weeks, when the pieces finally began to fall into place for USC, Boogie Ellis had been the glue, a once-streaky point guard finally becoming the engine of a suddenly rising offense.
But as those pieces began to unravel Thursday for USC, their lead point guard was forced to lead only a sizzling offense, firing 3-pointer after 3-pointer, emptying his tank until nothing but fumes remained. It wouldn’t be enough, as USC ultimately collapsed in an 87-81 loss to Arizona.
A no-life offense wouldn’t stop Ellis from trying to push the Trojans. He set another career high in the process, scoring 35 points and knocking down six 3-pointers.
Still, it was no use. With each answer, Arizona would offer its own answer at the top of its lungs, using all its weapons to dominate USC, which has now clinched the No. 1 seed. 3 seed for next week’s Pac-12 tournament.
Meanwhile, the Trojans were left with only Ellis, who had little help. Dealing with a back injury, Drew Peterson finished with just five points. Among USC starters, only Kobe Johnson accomplished more.
This was not the kind of performance the Trojans would have expected, with the chance to make a major statement on their tournament resume.
Everything had been clicking for USC to come in on Thursday. The Trojans entered the final week of the regular season riding a four-game winning streak, finally firing on all cylinders and sitting on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
They were scorching from deep during that stretch, knocking down almost half of their last 100 attempts from three-point range. They dominated on defense, holding those four opponents to 37% shooting. And his senior point guard was playing the best basketball of her college career, just as he was coming to an end.
But this week, Ellis still couldn’t shake the bitter taste left over from USC’s loss in Tucson. He vowed to be more aggressive and put the Trojans on his back.
Ellis came out firing with confidence, scoring 11 of USC’s first 16 points.
The problem for USC was that no one else stepped up. Peterson, the Trojans’ second-leading scorer, had zero points at halftime. The rest of USC’s starting lineup combined to shoot one for nine.
And at the time, Ellis’s aggressive approach was already having unintended consequences. He picked up his third foul with over two minutes to go in the first half.
USC had no answer for Arizona’s size, even as it went through several different lineups looking for one. Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis had his way with the Trojans’ front end, forcing USC to further adjust its approach. Tubelis finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, once again punishing USC at all levels of its defense.
The Trojans could see the Wildcats again soon, with Arizona locked in as the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. They will need more than Ellis to make the statement they intended to make on Thursday night.