This week the basketball teams from Los Angeles’s two major colleges will commence in their version of the Crosstown Rivalry, playing the first of two games between them.
Their first meeting being in 1928 – which predates the football rivalry by a year – as one may figure with their eleven national championships and having had arguably the greatest coach in the history of sports, John Wooden, UCLA leads the series over their USC rivals, 132-104.
Marking the 237th time that these Bruins and Trojans will play each other on the hardwood (their second meeting on February 24 will be the 238th), UCLA has won the last four meetings, having swept ‘SC last season, while the last time the Trojans won over their rivals was on January 9, 2011, at Galen Canter, beating the Bruins 63-52.
Even though the football part of this rivalry gets more attention – probably because only one game is played per year in that sport rather than two games in basketball – the hoops edition of the “Battle For L.A.” has had more than their share of highlights and classic games, from the Trojans, despite being ranked second in the country and having but two losses in 1971, being denied a bid to the NCAA tournament because those two setbacks were to UCLA and cost them the (then) Pac-8 title with the NCAA only taking conference champions to the Big Dance, to USC winning both their contests over UCLA in double and triple overtime, respectively, in 1985, to Kevin Love’s Bruins taking down the O.J. Mayo’s Trojans in the semi-finals of the Pac-10 Tournament before a rivalry-record crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center in 2008.
As I did with UCLA and USC’s football teams, I have wondered who would be the players in an ultimate Bruins vs. Trojans hoops battle, so I’ve put together a list of starters and reserves that, if I were in charge, would have the best chance of beating their rivals in one game.
Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a simple list of the all-time teams; indeed, regrettably be many deserving guys will be left off these squads or who will be listed as reserves when most folks would think they should be starters.
All of this is only one person’s opinion: Mine.
The only rule I had when making these lists is that no current UCLA and USC players may be on these teams.
Having said that, let’s go ahead and get on with this:
UCLA BRUINS – Starters:
Point Guard: Walt Hazzard - Led the Bruins’ first title team in 1964, going 30-0 along the way.
Guard: Gail Goodrich – Walt Hazzard’s backcourt mate, left UCLA as their all-time scoring leader, and had long career in the NBA with the Lakers.
Forward: Marques Johnson – Won college basketball’s answer to the Heisman Trophy, the John R. Wooden Award, in 1977, and had an outstanding pro career.
Forward: Bill Walton – Yes, I very much know that this big redhead was a center in Westwood and in the NBA, but how could I possibly leave the Bruins’ all-time leading rebounder who scored a record-44 points in the NCAA title game in 1973 out of this starting lineup? I just can’t!
Center: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – The single greatest player in the history of UCLA basketball when his name was Lew Alcindor, winning three national championships with the Bruins and being so dominant that an NCAA rule banning the slam dunk was put in all because of him. Scored more points than anyone who ever played in the pros (which means in the game). Won six NBA titles, including five with the Lakers. Shall I go on? Didn’t think so.
UCLA – Reserves:
Don Maclean, Forward – UCLA’s all-time leading scorer.
Reggie Miller, Forward – Third on the Bruins’ all-time scoring list, had perhaps the best post-UCLA NBA career outside of Kareem due to the fact that he played 18 seasons for the Indiana Pacers and made a record 2,560 three-point baskets.
Sidney Wicks, Forward – A key All-American during the Bruins’ glory years of the early 1970s, leading the team in scoring and rebounding during his last two seasons.
Tyus Edney, Guard – One of the leaders of UCLA’s 1995 national championship team, his last-second baseline-to-baseline layup against Missouri during the tournament that year puts him on this squad.
Ed O’ Bannon, Forward – The biggest name on that ’95 title team, leading the Bruins in scoring and rebounding and winning the Wooden Award that year.
Russell Westbrook, Guard – Now a HUGE star with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he went to two Final Fours and was Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year while in Westwood. Plus he won an Olympic gold medal in 2012.
Kevin Love, Forward – Along with Westbrook, the biggest current ex-Bruin star right now with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love was a consensus All-American, Pac-10 Player of the Year, and led UCLA to the Final Four during his only season in Westwood in 2008. Was also Westbrook’s teammate on the gold medal-winning Olympic team in London.
COACH: John Wooden – Ten NCAA championships in a 12-year span, including seven in a row. The Pyramid Of Success. Putting UCLA in general on the map, not just the basketball team. Regarded as perhaps the greatest man in the history of American sports; only a fool would question that.
All right, now that UCLA has been taken care of, it’s time to list the players from the Bruins’ just-south-of-downtown-L.A rival:
USC TROJANS – Starters:
Point Guard: Brandon Granville – An obvious choice as he’s the all-time Trojan leader in assists with 779. A four-year starter at the point, he led ‘SC to the Elite Eight in 2002, the farthest they have gone in the tourney since their last Final Four appearance in 1954.
Guard: Harold Miner – USC’s all-time scoring leader, the only Trojan to log over 2,000 points while at ‘SC. Won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest twice while with the Miami Heat.
Guard: Paul Westphal – A three-time All-American at ‘SC, Westphal had a great pro career after his days as a Trojan basketball player ended, winning an NBA title with the Boston Celtics and starring with the Phoenix Suns while being a five-time All-Star. He’s also enjoyed a long career as a college coach with Pepperdine and an NBA coach with the Suns and the Sacramento Kings.
Forward: Ronnie Coleman – Only Miner has scored more points than this man while at Troy, averaging 14.9 points a game at ‘SC.
Forward: Sam Clancy – An All-American who’s number three on USC’s all-time scoring list, he was a key member of the Trojans’ 2002 Elite Eight team along with Granville.
USC – Reserves:
Bill Sharman, Guard – USC’s first real basketball star as he averaged 13.5 points a game during the late 1940s, Sharman had the best pro career of any ex-Trojan hoopster, winning four NBA titles while being an eight-time NBA All-Star in the process. His coaching career matched his playing days as he led Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and the rest of those Lakers to their still-record 33 game winning streak and the NBA championship in 1972. And he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1976.
Wayne Carlander, Guard – One of the Trojans’ biggest stars in the early 1980s, he had the all-time career scoring record at ‘SC until Miner came along.
John Rudometkin, Center – His 18.8 points per game average while at USC in the early 1960s is still the best ever at that school, and his 1,434 points stood as the school record for 23 years until Carlander broke it.
Ron Riley, Forward – Inducted into the Pac-10 Basketball Hall of Honor in 2007, Riley is still the Trojans’ all-time leading rebounder with his 13.7 boards per contest while playing for them in the early 1970s.
O.J. Mayo, Guard – Scored the second most points ever in a season during his one year at ‘SC in 2008, and is having a solid pro career with the Dallas Mavericks, having been drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies. It was a shame, however, that he took improper gifts from an agent and got the school in so much trouble.
Desmon Farmer, Forward – A two-time All American as a Trojan, he averaged 19 points and five rebounds during his final two years, ranks fourth all-time in scoring, and was a big part of that ’02 Elite Eight team.
Nick Young, Guard – Currently a Philadelphia 76er, he made the All Pac-10 First team in 2006 and 2007, leading ‘SC to the Sweet Sixteen in ’07.
COACH: Sam Barry – The all-time winningest coach at USC, was the Trojans’ head man from 1929 to 1950 and leading ‘SC to their 40-game, 11-year win streak against UCLA, which remains the all-time college basketball record by one coach against a school.
OK – here, in my humble opinion, is the answer to the inevitable question: Who would win this epic battle?
I think that these Trojans would be extremely motivated to beat their Bruin enemies in this ultimate game, and would not only be able to hang with UCLA for a while, they would probably have a lead during the game’s first ten minutes or so.
However, UCLA’s depth and the number of legends on its squad would overcome USC in the second half, and the Bruins would pull away in the end, winning this ultimate crosstown basketball war by roughly ten to 15 points.
As for this year’s games, no matter what happens, I would be very surprised if there wasn’t at least a little drama; I expect that the scores will be close.
To find out if I’m right, tune in to the Pac-12 Networks or head for Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday night.