Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Daily Bruin in Men's Basketball, Sports
Published January 12, 2012, 12:19 am

It’s a winter night in Westwood in 2008 and inside a sold-out Pauley Pavilion, the No. 4 UCLA Bruins have just suffered a shocking 72-63 defeat to unranked USC. The game featured six future NBA players: two Trojans and four Bruins.

The basketball version of the crosstown rivalry was arguably at its highest point. UCLA coach Ben Howland attributed the upset loss to too much hype and passion making its way onto the floor.

“We were way too emotional,” Howland said after the game. “We were so caught up and our emotions took over. We made some bad decisions. I can’t remember us ever being like that in the last few years.”

UCLA’s current players rave about watching the Trojans and Bruins do battle three times in 2008, with UCLA taking two of them.

“That was a battle and it was a really good game,” redshirt sophomore forward David Wear said of one meeting that year.

“I remember (former UCLA forward Josh Shipp) dunked and swung back and kind of kneed (former Trojan O.J. Mayo),” senior guard Jerime Anderson recalled. “(Shipp) and (Russell Westbrook) gave each other a five. It was just a really intense moment and an intense game. I will always remember that play.”

It seems Howland would kill for that sort of drive in anticipation of Sunday’s 234th meeting between the two rivals. Look no further than Saturday’s win over Arizona State for evidence. Howland was ecstatic when sophomore center Joshua Smith woke up from an early-season slumber and started playing aggressively on his way to scoring 18 points against the Sun Devils.

“Did you guys notice his energy level today?” Howland asked reporters after the win.

After being nationally ranked in the preseason, Howland’s Bruins have failed to live up to expectations, and being “too emotional” for a game has never been a problem. Regardless, Howland and his players maintain the game hasn’t lost its competitive edge despite the teams being a combined 14-19.

They insist Saturday’s contest will have all the fixings of a rivalry game similar to the one four years prior.

“It’s still a rivalry,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re No. 1 and No. 2 or if we’re 0-12. It’s still USC v. UCLA.”

USC (5-12, 0-4 Pac-12) lost their best returning player when guard Jio Fontan tore the ACL in his left knee during a preseason trip to Brazil and they have dropped eight of their last nine games, including the first four to open Pac-12 conference play.

UCLA, (9-7, 2-2) meanwhile, looks to be playing its best basketball of the season despite the slow start. The resurgence of Smith combined with senior guard Lazeric Jones’ move to the off-guard position has paved the way for the Wears to start producing. The twins combined for 58 points and 26 rebounds last week.

“It’s not going to happen every night,” David Wear reminded fans. “There might be nights where one of us steps up more than the other but if we could all play that strong and that physical and try to contribute as much as we can, I think we’re going to be really good.”

Travis Wear thinks this new game is in the conversation as well.

“It’s a historic rivalry,” he said. “One of the greatest in college sports, so we definitely want to come out with 100 percent effort and give it all we’ve got. We don’t want to lose to those guys.”

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