LOS ANGELES — USC took another step toward shaking the rebuilding label, holding on for a 56-50 win over Arizona in the teams' Pac-10 opener on Thursday.
Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis had 14 points each to lead USC, which was picked to finish ninth in the Pac-10 media poll.
The Trojans (9-4) have won six of the last eight meetings against the Wildcats and seven straight this season, including victories against top-25 teams Tennessee and UNLV.
"Since Pac-10 media day, I said we could surprise some people," Lewis said. "I knew how good our team could be.
"I don't know if we're going to surprise people in the Pac-10, but we're going to try to play our best every game and pull out a win."
Derrick Williams had 15 points and eight rebounds and Jamelle Horne added 13 points for Arizona (6-7), which was coming off a 99-69 loss to BYU.
The Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the league but have struggled in non-conference play.
Arizona trailed by as many as 14 in the second half but pulled as close as 55-50 when Horne scored inside with under a minute left.
"We definitely couldn't get that backbreaking (stop)," Horne said. "We were right there at the breaking point, but we just couldn't get over the hump."
Arizona made 16 of 18 free throws, but shot a season-low 30 percent from the field.
"They're a team that's very difficult to guard and run great stuff," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said. "That was a great defensive performance by our team."
USC, which has held its last seven opponents to 56 points or less, blocked eight shots against the Wildcats.
Arizona struggled to score early, making 2 of its first 16 shots to trail 27-10.
But after a hot start, the Trojans cooled off. USC opened the game shooting 63.6 percent, a number that plummeted to 37 percent by halftime.
In the final seven minutes before the break, Arizona outscored USC 11-1 to pull within 28-21.
"We took bad shots and had bad turnovers," Lewis said. "They were able to get good transition baskets. That's how they came back."
Familiarity with the Wildcats may have helped the Trojans.
O'Neill was an assistant at Arizona under Hall of Famer Lute Olson from 1987-89 and the interim head coach of the Wildcats during the 2007-08 season.
Three Arizona players — Solomon Hill, Williams and Lamont Jones — were originally set to attend USC but de-committed after embattled coach Tim Floyd resigned in June.
Apparently, Trojans fans didn't forget as they booed when Hill and Williams were introduced in the starting lineups.
"I noticed that," said USC forward Nikola Vucevic, who had eight points and 10 rebounds. "I don't really have an opinion about it.
"(But) it was kind of funny."