A silo for (mostly) all things UCLA Basketball past, present & future
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
More on SC loss: USC not as dominant as last year but, surprisingly, still better than UCLA
dec 25 2017 | jeff miller |o.c. register | ARTICLE LINK
LOS ANGELES – They weren’t dealing in domination Wednesday, only defeat, which was still more than enough for USC’s basketball team.
The Trojans, behind their zone defense and 3-point shooting, beat UCLA for the fourth consecutive time, 84-76, proving that the No. 8 team in the country, on this night, was no better than the No. 2 team in its own town.
“We just gave up too many things off mistakes,” said Bruins coach Steve Alford, whose team lost only one of its first 20 games before dropping its past two.
A year ago, USC crushed UCLA three times in a row, the final result coming in the Pac-12 Tournament.
This year, however, it was the Bruins who were readying for a top NCAA Tournament seed, while the Trojans were trying to prove their worth as simple March Madness participants.
On Wednesday, the respective positions of these rivals appeared to be just the opposite.
That point was driven home best by Elijah Stewart, whose late dunk of a USC miss thwarted UCLA’s final push and ignited the serenade that rang down from the seats of Galen Center all the way to the souls of Westwood.
“Over-rated! Over-rated! Over-rated!”
More accurately, perhaps they should have chanted “Under-rated!” for an 18-4 Trojans team that was doubted even as it opened the season 14-0 because of light nonconference scheduling.
USC is still only 5-4 in the Pac-12, but this is not a team anyone should question at the moment.
“We got our hands on a lot of balls,” said Coach Andy Enfield, whose Trojans are playing without one of their top players, the injured Bennie Boatwright. “We affected the game with our defense.”
Against the Trojans, the celebrated Bruins did not look comfortable, particularly Lonzo Ball, who previously barely had exhibited the need to sweat.
Here, Ball had seven of UCLA’s 17 turnovers, missed four of nine free throws and, while finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds, did not look like the NBA lottery pick everyone projects him to be in June.
“When that happens, we’ve got to have some guys picking up,” Alford said. “We didn’t have that.”
The Bruins finished just 6 for 20 on 3-point tries, Bryce Alford scored only three points and the more athletic Trojans seemed to win most of the one-on-one battles.
USC’s Shaqquan Aaron used an explosive first half to finish with 23 points in only 26 minutes, leading the Trojans on a night when they didn’t shoot great, but their long-range accuracy more than made up for it.
“We wouldn’t be 18-4 if they weren’t good players,” Enfield said. “We shot the ball well. When your power forward is 6-foot-3, you better spread the floor and make some 3s.”
There was little doubt the Trojans were fired up for this game. By the end of Keith Williams Jr.’s rousing, impossibly pitched rendition of the National Anthem, several USC players were bounding in place.
Then, on the final note, they converged upon Williams Jr. at midcourt, smothering him in hugs and back slaps, the players genuinely moved by the power of his performance.
From there, however, it was UCLA that was on key at the start, scoring the game’s first eight points and eventually opening a 20-10 lead.
The advantage – any advantage for the Bruins – was notable Wednesday. In losing those three games to USC last season, UCLA led for only 1:47 total of the 120 minutes the teams shared on the court.
That is, rather astoundingly, only 1.5 percent of the time.
No, that’s not a miscalculation. That’s how one-sided this rivalry was a season ago. UCLA never led in either of the final two games and had just the briefest of advantages in the other.
On Wednesday, UCLA reversed that trend, until, at least, USC reversed things right back, doing so in a way so dramatic that the change of direction could have resulted in neck muscle trauma.
In a stretch of just under nine minutes, the Trojans went on a 30-10 run – scoring 11 consecutive points during one span – to turn minus-10 on the scoreboard to plus-10.
That sent the sold-out Galen Center into a general frenzy, the noise swallowing whatever Bruins support was present ... and, it appeared, the Bruins themselves.
Against USC’s zone, UCLA’s famously efficient offense instead looked leaky and wasteful, the Bruins unable to find space from beyond the 3-point arc and more than once left to take something far more contested and difficult.
“We knew they were going to go zone, and they did it very well,” Alford said. “We stood around, and we committed a lot of turnovers. That’s uncharacteristic for this team.”
The Bruins still outshot the Trojans from the floor in the first half – 55 percent to 47 – but USC had a 9-2 advantage on made 3-pointers. That translated to 27-6 on the scoreboard, the same one that showed the Trojans leading, 50-38.
Those nine 3-pointers were better than the 7.8 per game USC averaged and the 8.2 UCLA had surrendered on average entering Wednesday.
And there were still 20 minutes to play.
“I thought the turnovers really hurt us in the first half,” Alford said. “We kind of dug ourselves a hole ... when you’re down 12 at half. ...”
You’re in trouble, particularly on a night when you’re outscored by 24 from beyond the 3-point arc and just as decidedly lose the turnover battle.