I won’t lie; I was concerned about UCLA’s chances against their crosstown rivals at the Galen Center on Sunday.
Especially considering that Travis Wear, who has been solid, dependable, steady, and consistent for the Bruins all season, had to sit out the game due to a foot injury suffered in practice the day before, leaving the Bruins with only seven scholarship players available for their clash with USC.
By the end of the first half, that concern disappeared as UCLA not only scored the game’s first seven points, quieting the 7,984 Trojan fans hoping for a sweep, they also shot 58.6% in taking a 21-point lead at halftime, the lead growing to as much as 25 in the second half as the Bruins more than succeeded in getting revenge for their loss to ‘SC at Pauley Pavilion, 76-59.
“I thought our first half was tremendous,” UCLA coach Ben Howland commented afterwards. “Overall it was a great win.”
In two perfect illustrations of how things went for the Trojans, the loudest cheers from the crowd came when the USC men’s water polo team, who won their fifth consecutive NCAA championship this year, was introduced during a time out. As those players were acknowledged, someone was heard muttering, “Can they suit up and play basketball?”
And that was after the first thing shown during the “fan cam” during the game was a UCLA supporter wearing a “Number One” foam finger.
In what was a complete victory for Howland’s team, all five starters scored in double figures, led by Jordan Adams’ 20 points on seven-for-11 shooting. David Wear, starting in place of his twin brother, more than came through with his 11 rebounds and ten points.
The most encouraging player for UCLA was Tony Parker, who stepped up big time as in his 17 minutes, the most he has played as a Bruin, he scored eight points along with grabbing three rebounds, a block, and a steal.
“It’s good to see somebody who has been so patient…have a great game,” Kyle Anderson said about Parker. “Today he was ready.”
As for USC, the fact that Byron Wesley got a flagrant foul roughly midway through the second half when he tangled with Shabazz Muhammad, along with Omar Oraby (and the Bruins’ Norman Powell) getting a technical foul a little later on, showed how frustrated the Trojans became as the Bruins absolutely dominated in getting the season split with their rivals.
For the game, although J.T. Terrell managed 17 points to lead his team and Dwayne Dedmon grabbed 12 rebounds to lead everybody, ‘SC was held to 35% shooting and made barely half of their free throws as by game’s end, Galen Center could have been mistaken for their Doheny Library on campus; except for the USC band playing their alma mater, it was that quiet.
In what could be taken as an understatement, Terrell said after the game, “UCLA did a great job of knocking down shots…we didn’t do as well as we usually do on the defensive end.”
“We got down 7-0 right out of the game and from that point it was tough to battle out of that,” Trojan interim coach Bob Cantu summed up during the post-game press conference.
With this satisfying win – which is their 20th, surpassing last season’s total – at 20-7 the Bruins are now just a half-game out of first place in the Pac-12 with a 10-4 mark, while ‘SC fell to 12-15 and 7-7 in the conference; at this rate, the only way for the Trojans to make the post season is for them to win the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament.
Meanwhile for UCLA, four regular season games remain, starting with the Arizona schools, who the Bruins will be facing at Pauley Pavilion with one of those teams, Arizona, being in first place in the Pac-12 in what promises to be a major showdown.
Not that UCLA can afford to overlook their next opponent, Arizona State, who at 20-8 is right behind the Bruins in the conference standings at 9-6, and who overpowered them in Tempe the last time they played.
This is definitely the start of the home stretch for this Bruin team; a stretch that – if they play their cards right – will be most exciting.
Arizona State Sun Devils, Pauley Pavilion – Wednesday, February 27, 8:30 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks