USC produced steals. It had monster dunks. The Trojans blocked shots and also swished some tough shots. All of those created for a nice highlight reel.
However, the key to the Trojans' 80-61 victory over UCLA Thursday night at the Galen Center was playing consistent defense possession after possession. USC held UCLA to its lowest point total of the season and it all started with the Bruins' leading scorer.
The Trojan guards were in Bryce Alford's grill. They followed his every dribble. They chased him around every screen. They stayed tight as he drove the basketball and tried to create separation.
"It was a huge emphasis. Bryce Alford can get going at any point in a game," USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin said.
They knew Alford was a key for the UCLA offense. As Alford goes, so has the Bruins offense this season. The Trojans forced him to take contested shots and they held him to 3-for-13 shooting. UCLA's second leading scorer Isaac Hamilton didn't fare much better, finishing 3-for-12. The deo needed 25 shots to score 20 points
"We have pretty good guards," USC head coach Andy Enfield said. "They took the challenge to try to defend and make it tough. You're not going to shut down those guys. Hamilton and Alford are as good of scorers as we've played against all season. Our goal was just to make it challenging for them."
They did that. But it wasn't just guarding Alford and Hamilton tight. The Trojans hedged and doubled the guards in pick-and-roll situations forcing UCLA big men Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Golomon to beat them with jump shots. They rotated down when necessary, leaving less dangerous shooters like Prince Ali open for jumpers on the weakside if the ball was reversed.
Welsh finished 3-for-8. Golomon was 3-for-7. Ali missed all five of his shots. The Trojans made life difficult for UCLA's top scorers and dared role players to beat them, which they proved they couldn't on this night.
"We thought we'd win the game on the defensive end. The second half turned into a defensive struggle," Enfield said. "We had great energy tonight. The players did a great job of challenging their shots."
Freshman point guard Aaron Holiday gave them some troubles driving into the lane and getting to the basket and Tony Parker once again gave USC fits with his strength, but the damage those players did was minimized. Holiday was in foul trouble for much of the game and Steve Alford continually went away from Parker despite his dominance -- 13 points, five rebounds and three steals in just 14 minutes.
"We didn't make as many shots," Steve Alford said. "We have to give them credit. I think defensively they did a lot of good things."
The Trojans have shown this season that they are a damn good team when they play defense and they've bought into being a great defensive team. With defense has come this season's turnaround...and confidence:
"We expect to win every single game we play in, whether we play defense or not is usually the determining factor," Jacobs said.