USC once owned UCLA in basketball. It won 42 consecutive games over a 10 1/2 year period, but that all began before World War II. Soon after the streak ended, a man named Wooden took over in Westwood.
For nearly 40 years, UCLA was the college basketball program everyone else wanted to emulate. The Bruins had the best players and they dominated their competition, including crosstown rival USC. That's why it had been 62 years since the Trojans had beat UCLA three times in a season -- only six times had they won a pair of games against the team from Westwood. It had been 74 years since USC had swept a season series of three or more games.
But all that was erased Wednesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
USC (21-11) handed the Bruins (15-17) possibly their most embarrassing defeat ever considering the way it completes their disappointing season that ended in a plummet. The Trojans scored their most points ever against UCLA, winning 95-71 to produce their largest margin of victory over their crosstown rival since 1945.
Like it did at the Galen Center when USC took a 9-0 lead to open the games, the Trojans jumped out to a fast start and never trailed. Instead of taking the jump ball tip to the rim for a bucket five seconds into the game like last game, Julian Jacobs ran the offense and ended up with a corner 3-pointer from the right side. He drained it and USC was off to the races.
It scored the first 11 points, but after taking a 14-2 lead, the Trojans went 1-for-6 and turned the ball over six times. UCLA trimmed the lead to 16-12. That was as close as the Bruins would get. USC flexed its muscle with dunk after dunk inside and a barrage of long-distance bombs to build a 19-point halftime lead.
The second half was more of the same. Only once did it seem like UCLA might actually even create a stir. The Bruins went on a 12-4 run keyed by Bryce Alford's first two open looks and first two field goals made, both 3-pointers. But that quickly ended. Nikola Jovanovic, who should never get an easy fastbreak bucket, had a runout and UCLA's Gyorgy Golomon's attempt to answer came from the three-point line, where he had attempted all of of eight shots this season. Two Bruin missed layups and a turnover later, USC had pushed the lead back to 24 points.
Bennie Boatwright led six USC players in double figures with 19 points. He knocked down five 3-pointers and added nine rebounds, falling just shy of his second career double-double. Fellow freshman Chimezie Metu earned his first career double-double with a career-high 11 rebounds and 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
"The freshmen played beyond their years this evening," Andy Enfield said in the post-game news conference. "I had a feeling both would play well."
Jordan McLaughlin added 18 points and five rebounds. He made all nine of his free throw attempts as the Trojans shot 80 percent from the line in the game. Nikola Jovanovic scored 16 points and had seven rebounds to go with three steals. Julian Jacobs filled up the statsheet, particularly in the first half when he scored all 11 of his points and dished out seven assists to only one turnover.
Thomas Welsh led UCLA with 12 points despite playing just 19 minutes due to foul trouble and fouling out with 9:09 remaining.
Here's three takeaways from USC's 24-point blowout of rival UCLA Wednesday evening in Las Vegas:
Metu the Monster
Chimezie Metu seems to enjoy playing against UCLA. The best game of his young career came at Pauley Pavilion when he scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He added a second or third best game in Las Vegas. He recorded his first career double-double with a career-high 11 rebounds and 10 points. Eight of his 10 points came on thunderous slams -- over people, on people, driving through people...it didn't matter. As the video above shows, he was just a monster and he probably hurt Gyorgy Golomon's feelings with the tomahawk throwdown on an alley-oop from Jordan McLaughlin.
Just as impressive as the dunk itself, OK maybe not quite that impressive because that slam was just special, was the way Metu attacked the screen and role with enthusiasm. He showed some freshman desire running over, getting set, providing a solid wall to give McLaughlin some space and then spun inside, down the lane toward the rim and then went after the ball in the air with disregard for the plebeians beneath him.
Dominant Statistical Advantages
Take away USC's 17 turnovers and the Trojans would have dominated in every significant statistical category. USC was great on offense, great on defense, shared the basketball and hit the boards. One of those four categories can sink a victory, but when you are successful in all four categories, winning is nearly a guarantee.
It was on Wednesday.
"[We] haven't been a great team the entire season, but when we play like this, we can beat anybody on our schedule," Enfield said.
The Trojans shot at least 46 percent in both halves and was even better on 3-pointers than 2-pointers for the game when they made 47.8 percent to 46.9 percent. They also knocked down 80 percent (24-30) of their free throws.
USC held UCLA to only 38.2 percent, including 29.4 in the first half. The Trojans are now 10-1 when holding the opposition below 40 percent shooting. The Bruins were just 1-for-7 on 3-pointers in the first half and had just four assists. The defense was masterful on UCLA's most explosive players. Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Tony Parker have all had big performances against USC in the past. The trio was a combined 1-for-14 in the first half. They finished 7-for-30 and had a combined 25 points -- 18 below what they averaged together for the season. Hamilton failed to score in double figures for the first time in 27 games.
"Our defense is key. We want to stick to the coaches' game plan," Jordan McLaughlin said. "When we get stops on defense, it's easy for us to run out in transition and get a couple of easy ones."
While UCLA had 10 field goals in the first half, the Trojans had 11 assists. They passed open good looks for great looks. They were able to drive into the middle and kick to shooters. They played great team basketball.
Then there was USC's Achilles heel, rebounding. The Trojans made it seem it was their greatest strength. They thoroughly controlled the glass, winning the rebounding battle 52-30 with 18 offensive boards. Players boxed out and attacked the ball when it came off the rim. It was a refreshing reprieve from the action we've seen the last month.
USC had seven players score at least nine points and three players approach double-doubles. It was a complete team effort, one that resulted in a resounding rivalry statement.
"We wanted to ram it up their throats because they beat us three times last year," Julian Jacobs told the Los Angeles Times. "They're a great team, well coached, but it's definitely personal. We wanted to make a statement."
Still in the Game?
Wednesday evening's victory firmly plants the Trojans in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. Regardless of the rest of the Pac-12 tournament results, they shouldn't have to sweat while waiting for Selection Sunday. But that doesn't mean the rest of the Pac-12 tournament isn't important. USC would love to stake a claim to its first conference title since 2009 or at least grab another Pac-12 win or two and possibly move up from the No. 8 seed a lot of bracketology experts have them pegged for, so that they can avoid the potential second round matchup with one of the top four teams in the country.
So why would Andy Enfield not have rested his regulars down the stretch of the game with the game well in hand and UCLA making no strides at coming back? USC's legs have looked dead for three weeks, yet there was Julian Jacobs dribbling out the clock in the final minute. Malik Marquetti and Strahinja Gavrilovic didn't check in until the final 1:07 of the game. They aren't walk-ons. Both have shown they can handle themselves adequately. Up by 24 with 3:50 remaining, there was a media timeout. Why not get the starters out then and rest the legs of Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart as much as possible?
It may have actually had to do with what UCLA did during its 26-point Pac-12 tournament win over USC last season. Jacobs told reporters they had been reminded by the coaching staff that the Bruins had left their starters in until the final two minutes of last year's season finale for USC. So maybe it was a bit of payback for two teams that are never going to really see eye-to-eye, especially with a pair of coaches that have engaged in a bit of back-and-forth smack talk in the past.
USC returns to the MGM Grand Garden Arena Thursday night at 6:15 p.m. for a second chance at No. 2 seed Utah -- a shot at redemption at the team that stole the Trojans' perfect mark at the Galen Center. Utah features Pac-12 Player of the Year, Jakob Poeltl, in the middle. He presents a significant challenge for the USC big men because of his back-to-the-basket post moves, but he is an even bigger issue for the defense as a whole because of the way he passes the ball. The Utes pulled away from the Trojans three weeks ago due to Poeltl's ability to find open shooters any time USC sent an extra defender to try to slow him down. What game plan will Andy Enfield try against Poeltl this time?
- This is the 16th time that USC has defeated UCLA at least three times in a season, 1954 was the last.
- The Trojans averaged 88 points per game against UCLA and won by an average of 19 points in the three contests.
- The USC football team also beat UCLA by 19 points, 40-21.
- It was the second time this season USC has had six players in double figures with the first being against Cal Poly.
- USC is now 9-0 this season when it scores 90+ points. It was the first time eclipsing 90 points since Jan. 30. The Trojans are 14-2 when scoring at least 80.
- USC averaged 45 first-half points against UCLA this season.