He had been gone for five games and admitted he had wondered all day if he was ready to return following the death of his wife of 47 years, Bobbi, to ovarian cancer on Jan. 1.
The court had since been renamed "Lute and Bobbi Olson Court" and the seat she always used has been left empty.
"I felt very ready as far as being in the practice situation. It didn't take long to adjust to that," Olson said. "But just thinking of coming out here with the crowd the way I figured they would be early, and the name on the court and an empty seat over there that was the hardest thing to think about."
Someone asked if he felt his wife's presence at the game.
"We have been together for so long," he said, his voice cracking with emotion, "that her presence is always there."
Jason Gardner scored 17 points, 12 in the last 6 1/2 minutes on two 3-pointers and 6-of-6 free throws, for Arizona (11-5, 4-1 Pac-10). He also had six assists and no turnovers. Richard Jefferson also scored 17 points, matched his season high with eight rebounds and had seven assists. Michael Wright added 13 points.
Sam Clancy had 23 points for the Trojans (12-4, 2-2), who lost their second in a row. David Bluthenthal added 14 points, but only three in the second half.
The Wildcats outscored USC 11-3 over the final 3 1/2 minutes.
Olson was back on the sidelines after a five-game absence. Arizona was 3-2 while he was gone, 3-1 in Pac-10 play.
"It felt good to know hwas here," Wright said. "He is a great teacher. He makes you want to play harder when he is out there."
Olson received a long standing ovation from the crowd, along with chants of "Luuuute! Luuuute!" when he came onto the court with the team before the game.
"This community has been tremendous," Olson said. "The kind of reaction has really helped our entire family."
Arizona took the lead for good 7 1/2 minutes into the game and was up by as many as 13 in the first half. But the Trojans came back to cut the lead to two in the second half.
"We felt we had a chance to win when we were down by two points," USC coach Henry Bibby said, "but we shot ourselves in the foot. We weren't able to score and we didn't capitalize on the opportunity. We had every break to win, but we just didn't have the focus or manpower to finish."
The Wildcats played some of their best defense of the season to lead by as many as 13 in the first half and were up 35-26 at the break.
But Arizona missed 11 in a row during a 9-2 surge that cut the lead to 48-46 on Clancy's two free throws with 10:47 to play. After Olson called a timeout, Jefferson had a slam dunk on a lob pass from Loren Woods to ignite a 12-4 run that boosted Arizona's lead to 60-50 on Jason Gardner's 3-pointer with 6:29 remaining.
Gardner also sank a 3-pointer to boost the Wildcats' lead to 63-55 with 3:28 to go.
USC made its first four 3-pointers in the second half, but was 0-for-8 after that.
Arizona scored 11 consecutive points to go up 21-12 with 9:46 left in the half. Wright capped the run with a three-point play, followed by an inside basket.
Another 10-2 spurt gave the Wildcats a 33-20 lead on Wright's two free throws 2:24 before halftime.
Woods finished with just two points, nearly 14 below his season average. However, he held USC center Brian Scalabrine scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting.
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