Bruins plenty tough, Trojans not so much

Here we go again . . . when basketball looks like football in the Crosstown Rivalry and most of the toughness is with the guys in the baby blue.

This is getting pretty tiresome.

Twice in a little more than six weeks, USC's Trojans have had their heads handed to them by the baby blue Bruins. And there seems to be a pattern here.

USC gets punched in the mouth (figuratively, of course) and slinks away shaking their heads at how good that UCLA team -- football or basketball -- was. Forgetting of course that the Bruins hadn't played like that against almost anybody else on their schedule.

UCLA played with confidence, combativeness and competitiveness Wednesday. The longer the game went, after the first 17 minutes or so and a few minutes in the second half, the wider the margin got. The final tally: 83-66 Bruins.

"They're very skilled offensively," USC Coach Andy Enfield said of the Bruins, who have now beaten his Trojans all three times he's faced them. But not to worry about that shutout, Enfield said of his 9-8 team that dropped to 1-4 to remain in a tie for ninth place in the Pac-12 with Cal. "We haven't beat a lot of teams."

And they didn't come close against a UCLA team that lost five straight a couple of weeks back with performances that were anything but offensive in the last four, scoring 44, 50, 56 and 39 against teams that guarded them.

And sure, USC is "the fourth-youngest team in college basketball," as Enfield said. But one of the teams that nearly shut UCLA out for the first half was a team that's college basketball's fifth-youngest -- Kentucky.

"We knew coming in they were very dangerous," Enfield said, although not to UK, Alabama, Utah and Colorado. But then again, and we hate to keep pointing this out, those teams guarded UCLA. No chippies and slams with no one around them. No flat-footed threes without a hand in their face.

No shooting 29 for 49 from the field by four Bruin starters who time and again got whatever shot they wanted against a USC defense that looked too much like the football team trying to protect a lead late.

Then there was the amazing 41-20 edge in rebounding. Inexplicable almost for a USC team starting two 6-foot-11 players to have that heppen to them.

But "look at the body types," Enfield said, although senior Tony Parker's 260 pounds has often been a liability against teams that took advantage of his lack of quicks. But it wasn't all body types.

"Some of it's that," Enfield said. "Some of it's anticipation . . . some of it's toughness."

A lot of it's toughness. Much as it was in football. As for the "anticipation," a lot of that is gameplanning and getting players to places on the court where they can make plays.

"We've got to be tough," USC's Darion Clark said of what went wrong here. "They outplayed us, out-toughed us . . . I don't know how else to say it, we've got to be tougher."

Again, a little bit of a look back at the Rose Bowl here. The Trojans were just not nearly tough enough -- again. And UCLA took big-time advantage of it.

Because in rivalry games, you can't just show up and play maybe half the game -- those first 17 minutes when USC actually led 31-28 and that little more than four minutes in the second half when USC cut a 55-37 UCLA lead to 61-52 -- not at home.

Not in the best by far environment of the season with a crowd of 6,253 that looked and sounded like more than that when the fans had a reason to make noise. You've forgotten that Galen Center can be a fun place if the Trojans make it so.

"Eventually we're going to have to wake up," Clark said. "I still think we're a really good team . . . I haven't lost hope."

Neither has Enfield. "Our young players will learn a lot from this," he said, "or we hope they will."

We can all hope they will. But as they say, hope isn't a plan.

And with two straight homecourt losses, and no Galen games for more than two weeks until Colorado comes in Jan. 29, how many of these fans who were decently entertained half the time here will be back?

For a team averaging just 3,248 at home coming into this game, 11th in the Pac-12 and ahead of only Washington State (1,956), that's a question that matters. Just as it would mattered to give them a show that would make them want to come back.

Footnoted



Two positive stat notes for USC were a 15-12 assist-to-turnover ratio and eight steals . . . with 18 points early in the second half, and as the only USC scorer scoring, it looked as if Nikola Jovanovic might eclipse his career-high 23 but the 6-11 sophomore scored just once more to finish with 20 . . . big issue for USC -- guard shooting of five for 19 (Jordan McLaughlin four of 13, Julian Jacobs one of six . . . the formula for USC to win, Enfield said, is a 1-2-3 plan on defense: "We need to contain penetration, we need to keep the ball out of the lane since we don't have a shot-blocker. To win, we have got to play team defense."

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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