The Bruins played with focus and intensity from the start, and opened up a sizeable lead quickly by getting stops against USC and easy baskets on the other end.
Larry Drew easily had his best half as a Bruin, getting 8 points, 5 assists, 2 steals and no turnovers in the first 20 minutes. He also set the tone by hitting the first shot of the game – a three-pointer – and finished the half with two threes. A factor going into the game was whether USC would, like they had in the first meeting, sag off Drew and clog the middle, but Drew made them pay for attempting it by hitting the two three-pointers. He was easily the catalyst to UCLA's near-perfect first half, setting up his teammates with excellent passes.
Seldom-used freshman center Tony Parker, pressed into playing more minutes because of the absence of Travis Wear, really came through with his best game of the season also. Parker had 8 points and 3 rebounds in the first half, while playing with 2 fouls. He was effective on the offensive end, finishing around the basket in a way he hadn't yet this season. It wasn't as if he was playing against a small frontline in USC, either; in fact, USC's clear advantage in its match-up with UCLA is in the front court. Again, it's a hint at what kind of player Parker might have developed into by this time in the season if he had had more playing time early on. It might not be coincidental that UCLA gave back much of the one-time 25-point lead in the second half when Parker only played five minutes. Ben Howland generally has a set subbing pattern already in his mind before a game, and doesn't generally deviate from it, which can sometimes not be optimum for taking advantage of players when they're playing well in specific games, and that seemed to be the case with Parker Saturday.
David Wear also came through and picked up the slack of his brother's absence with his best performance in a long time, finishing with a double-double of 10 points and a very significant 11 rebounds. UCLA was out-rebounded pretty easily in the last UCLA/USC meeting, and even though USC edged them this time in rebounds 42-37, without David Wear's effectiveness rebounding USC would have gotten considerably more second-chances. USC seemed to be over-confident in its ability to dominate UCLA on the boards, releasing its backcourt after every Trojan shot, but David Wear's 9 defensive boards really limited USC's second-chance opportunities.
You know UCLA was getting some good play from other sources when it was leading USC at the half by 21 points and Shabazz Muhammad only had 4 of them, and finished the game with a total of 11.
USC's advantage in the game was around the basket, so it was inexplicable that the Trojans just didn't make enough of an effort to get the ball inside. Seven-footer Omar Orabi showed in a couple of sequences how easily he could back down the freshman Parker, especially since Parker was playing with two fouls. But the Trojans settled on jump shots from the outset. When USC came out of timeouts, it was clear that USC interim coach Bob Cantu had instructed them to get the ball inside, so it didn't seem like it was a matter of a mis-guided coaching tactic. It just appeared like the USC players got away from the game plan throughout the game. UCLA did do some little things differently defensively, mostly not hedging screens to keep their bigs close to the basket and limit their fouls and fatigue, and also plugging the middle.
To compound USC's problems was the fact that, even when USC got some easy looks from drives and mid-range pull-ups they were tight, pulled the string and came up short on most of the shots and just plainly missed easy lay-ups.
There was quite a bit riding on this game for USC, too, and it appeared that they came out tight because of it.
The second half was different. UCLA went cold for about 5 minutes, allowing the Trojans to pull within 9 at 68-59 with 4 minutes left. It was a combination of USC not being nearly as tight in the second half and UCLA appearing like they were tiring with such a short bench. Drew committed five sloppy turnovers, and UCLA's offensive execution suffered. A key second-half sequence was David Wear catching the ball at about 19 feet and getting around USC's other seven-footer, DeWayne Dedmon, after a ball fake to make a nice dish to Jordan Adams for a lay-up to keep the Bruins up by 11 with 3:20 left.
Adams has to be given a great deal of credit. Not only was he the game's leading scorer with 20 points, he also made some considerable hustle plays at very key moments in the second half, when the rest of his teammates looked like they were getting gassed. He hustled back to block an easy lay-up on a break that would have cut UCLA's lead to 7 with a few minutes left; blocked out Dedmon to get a big defensive rebound; and hustled to get a rebound and tapped away the ball from Dedmon, secured it and passed it to Anderson while falling out of bounds with just a couple of minutes left.
As we previewed on the BRO Premium Hoops Forum, getting a win today against USC was critical in keeping alive UCLA's hopes for a Pac-12 championship. If they had lost to the Trojans they would have been really up against it, with very little chance of catching Oregon or Arizona, and even potentially getting overtaken by Cal. But give Howand and the team credit for clearly looking well-prepared and focused from the first minute.