To beat USC you don’t need much. Maybe just a good amount of talent (which UCLA has), or some of that talent to get hot (like Isaac Hamilton did). Or for USC to be fatigued (like they were since they posted a big come-from-behind victory over ASU Wednesday).
UCLA got all three, and easily beat USC in the quarter finals of the Pac-12 Tournament, 96-70.
Hamilton had the game of his life, scoring a career-high 36 points on a day when absolutely anything he put up would seemingly go in. He was smiling from ear to ear for some of the game, knowing it was just one of those games where he had the magic touch.
With Hamilton that hot, there wasn’t much more UCLA needed to do to beat the Trojans. Actually, there wasn’t that much else they did. They did play, overall, a pretty good offensive game, mostly because USC’s defense was slow and unfocused. The Bruins consistently had open looks and knocked them down (shooting 60% from the field), and got scoring in transition. Tony Parker had 14 points on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting, basically being too strong inside for any of the Trojan post players. Bryce Alford tried to distribute the ball and feed the hot-handed Hamilton.
It was also one of those nights in which the ball just happened to bounce UCLA’s way – literally. There were a number of offensive possessions where a loose ball just inadvertently fell into the wide open hands of a Bruin with an open lane to the basket. Norman Powell tried to throw down a slam and was hacked, and the ball bounced up in the air and landed perfectly through the net.
It can’t be said enough that probably the biggest factor in the game was that the Trojans were spent. They looked like they had already ended their season about 12 minutes into the game. They were really slow on defense, particularly on close-outs, and not necessarily because UCLA was moving the ball well.
On the other end of the court, UCLA’s defense wasn’t much better. USC started the game cutting up UCLA’s interior defense with some nice interior passing and easy baskets. Bryce had a particularly bad defensive game, with de-facto USC point guard Julian Jacobs playing like there was literally no one guarding him. He’d turn the corner on Bryce easily, or would just lose him with a ball screen. A couple of times Bryce game up on ball screens, looking like he expected his teammate to switch – even though his teammates looked surprised by that bit of news. Jacobs had 7 assists as a result and created so many of USC's scoring opportunities because of it. UCLA’s interior defense, early on, was allowing USC’s bigs to get in the paint fairly easily.
But when the fatigue set in, and UCLA, being particularly fresh since it hadn’t played for over a week, smelling blood and wanting to score, and neither team playing much defense, the game was more of an AAU, run-and-gun affair for a good portion of it. Even with USC getting blown out, it still shot fairly well (about 50% for the game until garbage time and USC’s scrubs took some shots). UCLA’s main rotation (not counting its own scrubs), shot 63% from three.
USC made it so easy for the Bruins. The Trojans committed 13 turnovers in the first half (and finished with a total of 18), which led to a ton of easy baskets for UCLA. And many of them were unforced and sloppy, as a result of the fatigue. UCLA didn’t even have to rebound well, barely edging USC, 32-31.
UCLA didn’t even need its Lottery-pick freshman Kevon Looney. He was transported to a hospital during the game for a CAT scan on his cheek after getting cut by a flying elbow in the first half.
Of course, UCLA might need Looney a bit more when playing Arizona Friday in the semi-final of the Pac-12 Tournament, a game universally considered a must-win for UCLA’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
UCLA, Hamilton Blast USC
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