The play that sealed it provided a fitting summary for how the game slipped away so quickly. Arizona's Chase Budinger missed the back end of a one-and-one, and the ball was tipped toward the foul line. Two USC guards leaped for the rebound, but neither grabbed the ball, seemingly fighting each other for it.
Dwight Lewis swatted the ball toward the perimeter – straight into a pair of Wildcats. Seconds later, Arizona guard Nic Wise sunk a 3-pointer to give Arizona a 10-point cushion, with 2:48 remaining.
Even without starting guard Daniel Hackett – who injured his right side diving for a ball in the game's second minute – USC led for much of the night. But Arizona grabbed too many offensive rebounds down the stretch, and the Wildcats second-chanced their way to an 80-69 victory at the Galen Center, snapping the Trojans' four-game winning streak.
"Probably the key parts in the game, at least from our end, were not rebounding two missed free throws, and not securing the ball on two misses after stops, late in the second half," USC coach Tim Floyd said. "The rebounding differential was probably the biggest number in the game for us – their offensive rebounds."
Arizona out-rebounded USC 37-30 and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, to the Trojans' 10.
Hackett was not available for comment after the game, as he had departed to undergo X-Rays. The worst-case scenario, Floyd said, would be a chipped bone in Hackett's hip and/or a broken rib. The sophomore had some trouble breathing after suffering the injury.
"We just have to hope for the best, because he's a guy that we desperately need," Floyd said. "We're incredibly thin on the perimeter right now."
Marcus Simmons – a freshman who suffered a severe ankle sprain in the preseason and never got untracked – may be done for the season, after he aggravated the injury this week, Floyd said. Despite Simmons' limited minutes, he still served as the Trojans' second guard off the bench.
If Hackett remains out, sophomore walk-on Ryan Wetherell – who played five minutes while Thursday's game was still close – will continue to play.
"He's one of the toughest guys I know," Floyd said of Hackett. "So, I fear the worst, because of the fact that he didn't return."
Without Hackett, USC's offense lost the tempo that had helped the Trojans to their recent success. Running point, the sophomore helped keep the ball moving, affording USC some patience to wait for high-percentage shots.
USC still managed to shoot 50 percent from the field on Thursday, with O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson creating their own shots. The duo often delivered far from the basket and in traffic. But the team lagged in the second half, shooting only 1-of-11 from 3-point range.
Minus Hackett's presence as a perimeter defender, Arizona made nearly half of its 3-pointers (10-of-21). Budinger hit four of them, and led all scorers with 29 points. Senior guard Jawann McClellan, who scored 10 of the Wildcats' first 14 points, finished with 23, including three 3-pointers.
"We just didn't play solid defense," center Taj Gibson said.
The Trojans lost their last lead with 6:47 remaining, when Jordan Hill's lay-up put Arizona on top, 57-56. Hill was fouled on the shot, and he missed the free throw. The Wildcats grabbed the rebound, and Budinger sank another 3-pointer for a four-point lead.
"We know we did a bad job at that – just not keeping focus on the game and boxing out," said Jefferson, who led USC with seven rebounds but also failed to secure a few balls beneath the basket. "We can get better at it. … We just weren't focused at the end."
USC players said they did not feel fatigued late in the game, but four of them were on the floor at least 37 minutes – including Angelo Johnson, who sat out Wednesday's practice with the flu – and Gibson played 32, before fouling out late.
Mayo led the Trojans with 23 points, Jefferson scored 19 and Gibson had 17. USC missed Hackett's outside shooting and foul-provoking drives. With the ball moving less, Lewis found fewer opportunities, scoring three points on 1-of-4 from the field.
"You really can't make up for Daniel," Mayo said. "One, his experience; two, his poise; and three, just having another player who we don't mind having the ball down the stretch. He's a heady player and we really missed him.
"But guys that came off the bench still came and competed and played hard. We just came up short tonight."
Make sure to check out reporter Jonathan Kay's live blog from every home USC basketball game on the TroyHoops.com basketball message board.