LOS ANGELES – Derrick Williams scored 20 points and No. 16 Arizona held off Southern California 67-62 Friday night to earn a spot in the Pac-10 tournament title game for the first time since 2005.
The top-seeded Wildcats (27-6) have won 12 of 14 games and will play No. 3 seed Washington in today’s championship for a trophy they last won in 2002.
Jesse Perry added 11 points for Arizona, which had its 25-year NCAA tournament streak end last year when the Wildcats stayed home. But as the Pac-10’s highest-ranked team this season, they’re headed back under conference coach of the year Sean Miller regardless of how they fare today.
Marcus Simmons, the Pac-10’s defensive player of the year, led the Trojans with a career-high 20 points. Nikola Vucevic scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half and had 12 rebounds.
The fourth-seeded Trojans (19-14) played without coach Kevin O’Neill, whose suspension for the rest of the tournament was announced by USC two hours before tipoff. He and his wife got into a verbal altercation with an Arizona booster on Thursday night at the team hotel. Bob Cantu, the Trojans’ associate head coach, took over and paced the sideline, regularly checking laminated play cards.
With a USC fan holding up a “Free K.O.” sign, the Trojans came out strongly, taking a six-point lead at the start. They fell behind for good late in the first half.
Vucevic hit a pair of free throws to draw the Trojans within three with 2:29 left. Jio Fontan’s 3-pointer left them trailing 63-60 with 48 seconds to go.
Williams made two free throws to put Arizona ahead 65-60 with 20 seconds left.
Donte Smith missed a 3-pointer in front of USC’s bench, but Maurice Jones got the rebound and Vucevic scored underneath, leaving the Trojans trailing by three with 4 seconds left.
Williams got fouled and made both before Fontan’s jumper missed at the buzzer.
USC is 0-4 against Arizona in the Pac-10 tourney.