Could the tides be turning? UCLA has long been known for their basketball prowess and have dominated USC on the hardwood. While UCLA holds a series edge of 138-105, only 36 of those Trojan victories have come since the mid-1950s. Even more rare has been a season series sweep with USC accomplishing that feat just five times in the last 60 years and not since 2010.
The Trojans have the opportunity in front of them Thursday night at the Galen Center when the Bruins come over for the Crosstown Showdown. USC won the first matchup 89-75, giving Andy Enfield his first win over UCLA and fellow third-year head coach Steve Alford.
But the Trojans will face a Bruins team that has been backed into a corner by a poor showing through the first half of the Pac-12 schedule. In front of what should be a raucous Galen Center crowd, the Bruins will try to make up ground in the standings by stealing a game on the Trojans' home court.
Here's what to watch, where you can see the game, a flashback to the last time these teams played and the projected starting lineups.
What to Watch:
Galen Getting Gorged - Tonight's game is expected to be a sellout. Let me repeat that word: SELLOUT. Why repeat it? Because it's been so long since it happened at Galen Center, you might not remember what it means.
USC hasn't had a full capacity attendance of 10,258 for a home basketball game in more than five years, so tonight's atmosphere should be electric. The student section is expected to be blacked out with the first 1500 students being given free black shirts that have "Fight On"written on them and the team is hoping that everyone else will also wear black.
"It's going to be a really fired up place and I'm really looking forward to playing in front of a sold out Galen for the first time," junior Nikola Jovanovic said.
Unlike in other sports, the crowd can have a dramatic impact on basketball games. It is very difficult for your adrenaline not to kick in as a player when you physically feel the warmth of the crowd and can sense the collective emotion of a loud crowd surrounding you in every direction. USC's players will have to work to remain composed as the adrenaline of the crowd gets them going early in the game. This is something many of them didn't really expect to see happen during their time at USC after routinely seeing crowds of 2,000-3,000 for non-conference games the last few years with that occasionally bumping up to 5,000-6,000 for games against marquee Pac-12 opponents like UCLA or Washington.
Shooting guard Elijah Stewart joked on the Trojans Live radio show that it was so quiet last year that "you could hear people dropping popcorn."
But tonight Galen will be rocking. How long the fans stay loud and engaged in the game will depend on the product on the floor.
"We're going to hopefully feed off the energy of the crowd and hopefully play well," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "It should be a great atmosphere for a college basketball game. You'll see two good teams on the floor and that should be enjoyable for the fans."
Doing it a Different Way - Nikola Jovanovic produced a season-high 28 points against Washington the Trojans' last time out, making 10 of his 13 field goal attempts and going 8-for-9 at the free throw line. Though Jovanovic doesn't possess the same type of athleticism as the Washington frontcourt, he was able to have success by using his basketball IQ. He used pump fakes when needed. He leaned into defenders to keep them from getting off the ground. He stepped around players trying to jump up for a monster block.
Jovanovic isn't as physical as other players in the paint and there are times when he should go up with more force and conviction, but he quietly goes about his business and most nights produces a solid stat line that often goes unnoticed. He's averaging a solid 12.4 points per game and 7.3 rebounds while being second on the team with 20 blocks.
Know Thy Enemy - The Bruins won back-to-back games only once in January, but will try to begin the month of February building a winning streak after dominating Washington State in their last game. Sitting at 13-9 overall and 4-5 in the conference, the Bruins know they have some work to do if they want to return to the NCAA tournament. Somewhat of a split personality squad, UCLA has big wins over then No. 1 Kentucky, then No. 20 Gonazaga and then No. 7 Arizona, but hasn't been able to find consistency. The biggest concern has been at the defensive end where opponents are averaging 76.8 points (80.3 in Pac-12 play) and the Bruins are just 3-9 when an opponent scores 80+ points.
The Bruins are led by Bryce Alford (17.0 ppg) and Issac Hamilton (16.6) on the wings and often as they go, so go the Bruins. In the first matchup with USC, both were held to 4-for-13 shooting. It will take another stellar defensive effort from the Trojans to try to keep UCLA dual outside threats in check.
Bruiser Tony - While USC contained UCLA's guards, it had no answer for senior forward Tony Parker down low. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound big man scored at will, putting in 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting. Even when he missed, he often got the rebound and putback, finishing with 12 boards. Parker helped get USC's starting forwards Nikola Jovanovic and Bennie Boatwright both in foul trouble in the first half and feasted on the smaller Darion Clark and lighter Chimezie Metu.
"Tony is a great player," Enfield said. "He gives us trouble when he gets low post position. He's so strong and skilled down on the low block."
"He has a bigger body, but his feet are quick and he's quick off his feet to rebound the ball. He seems like he's always in the right position. He's very challenging to play against."
Parker may not start after the Bruins had success with Jonah Bolden in the lineup last game. After Parker's dominance against USC in the last matchup, it will be interesting to see how Steve Alford combines the lineups using both Bolden and Parker.
Eat Your Words - Remember Bryce Alford's talk about cupcakes before the first matchup? When asked about playing an improved USC team, Alford said he was looking forward to facing a more competitive Trojans squad. But his phrasing irked some:
"You don’t want to play cupcakes," Alford told reporters before the first matchup. “We’re not saying they were ever a cupcake. But we like that they’re getting better.”
Last Matchup: USC won 89-75 on Jan. 13, 2016.
Point guard Jordan McLaughlin played through illness that would last more than two weeks to score 23 points and dish out four assists with no turnovers while freshman Chimezie Metu had his first true breakout performance. Metu scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds as USC was able to answer after run that UCLA had. Tony Parker dominated down low. He led the Bruins with 27 points and 12 rebounds while the Trojans did a nice job holding down Bryce Alford, who scored just nine points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 7:30 p.m. PST, Pac-12 Networks (Ted Robinson, Don MacLean, Yogi Roth)
Radio: AM 690, TuneIn Radio (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)
Projected Starting Lineups:
G - Aaron Holiday (6-1 freshman)
G - Bryce Alford (6-3 junior)
G - Isaac Hamilton (6-5 junior)
F - Jonah Bolden (6-10 sophomore)
C - Thomas Welsh (7-0 sophomore)
G - Julian Jacobs (6-4 junior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Katin Reinhardt (6-6 junior)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior)