jan 25, 2017 | dylan hernandez | THE L.A. TIMES | ARTICLE LINK
We missed this, didn’t we?
There’s nothing like a meaningful local rivalry in college basketball, something Los Angeles was reminded of Wednesday night.
The scene at the Galen Center was a flashback to a previous era, as the intimate decade-old arena rocked and roared as it did when O.J. Mayo was playing for USC and Kevin Love for UCLA.
The student section was packed more than an hour before the start of the game. The home fans were silenced when UCLA’s Lonzo Ball soared through the key for a putback dunk in the first half, only to erupt with delirium when Elijah Stewart knocked down a three-pointer to send USC into the intermission with a 12-point advantage. The majority of the crowd was on its feet for the final three minutes of USC’s 84-76 upset victory over No. 8 UCLA.
The game marked a welcome return for a kind of event that was absent from the local sports landscape in recent years, a crosstown rivalry game with national implications.
UCLA lost, but college basketball won.
Even UCLA Coach Steve Alford recognized that.
“It’s fun,” he said. “SC’s got a lot of So Cal kids, we’ve got a lot of So Cal kids and this area’s always been good with a lot of good players. The rivalry’s going good and we’ll get another shot at them in three weeks.”
And here’s the best part: This is only the start. Ball might be a one-and-done player, but this matchup should continue to produce games of significance.
“You’ve got two teams in this city that are very good basketball teams,” USC Coach Andy Enfield said.
USC’s victory wasn’t a fluke.
While the Trojans lack the high-end talent to be national championship contenders like the Bruins, they have the style and personnel to trouble their rivals for the foreseeable future.
There were similarities between what happened Wednesday night and what happened last season, when the USC won all three of their meetings. The Trojans were too athletic, a credit to the blueprint Enfield has followed since taking over their program.
Until this game, this reality remained obscured because of Ball’s presence in the UCLA lineup. The Bruins had transformed into an up-tempo team with Ball as their point guard, but their perceived quickness on the floor was more a reflection of his ability to quickly distribute the basketball than it was of their athleticism.
UCLA plays quick. USC is quick.
The Trojans forced 17 turnovers. They had 12 steals.
When UCLA was in transition, USC retreated and blocked the passing lanes. Perhaps the most telling statistic was the amount of time UCLA needed to score its first fastbreak points: 15 minutes 35 seconds.
UCLA scored only six fastbreak points in the entire game.
“To hold them to 76 was an accomplishment,” Enfield said.
USC employed a four-guard lineup that included freshman point guard De’Anthony Melton, who was assigned to guard Ball. Shadowed by the 6-foot-4 Melton, Ball had seven turnovers.
The miscues, in turn, created easy opportunities in transition for the Trojans. Near the end of the first half, Ball threw the basketball off the head of forward TJ Leaf, resulting in an open dunk on the other end for Melton.
The arena erupted. Later in the game, Ball was serenaded with chants of “Over-rated!”
The crowd of 10,258 counted as the first sellout at the Galen Center this season.
“This was a big-time college atmosphere,” Enfield said. “This was as good as an atmosphere as I’ve ever seen.”
There should be a similar atmosphere at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 18. That’s the next time the two teams face each other.
This is something the city can get used to.