UCLA was supposed to be the team that wanted to run and gun and have some fun with big slams and deep threes.
"We thought if we had a lot of turnovers, they would get to the rim or shoot the open three, which they've done so well this year," USC head coach Andy Enfield said.
Instead, the Trojans flipped the script Wednesday night at the Galen Center.
USC forced 17 turnovers, produced highlight after highlight at the rim and tied their season-high with 14 made three-pointers as they upset the No. 8 Bruins, 84-76. On the other side, UCLA only made six of their 20 three-point attempts (30 percent) as the Bruins fell to 19-3 (6-3) on the season.
Shaqquan Aaron led five USC players in double figures with a career-high 23 points off the bench. He was the spark the Trojans (18-4, 5-4) needed after falling behind 8-0 and allowing UCLA to push the lead to double digits at 20-10. He scored 12 points in the final 9:23 of the first half, His three-pointer with 7:18 remaining in the half gave USC its first lead of the game, 29-28, and started an 11-0 run that featured eight points from Aaron. UCLA never got within four points.
"Shaqquan Aaron was just spectacular tonight," Enfield said. "This was his best game."
And when UCLA did try to rally in the second half, Aaron was there to knock down the big shots. He had the only basket during a nearly seven and a half minute shooting slump and stopped an 11-2 UCLA run with a three-pointer.
"I just thought he played a great game. He didn't force anything. He played within the concept. He made the right play, so he was a big key for the win."
UCLA trimmed the lead back down to four one final time with six minutes remaining, but Elijah Stewart threw down a monster putback slam and USC was able to pull away for its fourth straight victory over its baby blue rival.
Stewart and De'Anthony Melton both stuffed the stat sheet. Stewart had 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks while Melton added 13 points, tied a career high with nine rebounds and had five assists, four steals and a block. Chimezie Metu scored 13 points with Jordan McLaughlin posting 10 points and eight assists.
Isaac Hamlton led UCLA with 20 points while Aaron Holiday (15), Lonzo Ball (15) and Thomas Welsh (13) also scored in double figures. USC limited three of the Bruins' top weapons. Ball notched a double-double, but also turned the ball over a career-high seven times. Fellow fab freshman TJ Leaf managed just eight points on 4 of 10 shooting. And Bryce Alford? He was non-existant. He scored just three points, going 1 for 7 from the floor.
With two forwards out with injuries, USC went small, starting a four-guard lineup with 6-foot-5 Stewart at the power forward position. UCLA ate up points in the paint early against USC's man defense. Post players scored UCLA's first 10 points. Welsh had 10 points within the first six minutes of the game.
The Trojans were forced to switch to zone and that's when they were able to get back in the game. They overplayed three-pointers, forcing shooters to drive. USC funneled the drivers inside to Metu and then took away opportunities to kick the ball out to open shooters. The long arms of Stewart, Melton and Jonah Mathews helped create turnovers as UCLA struggled to find proper passing lanes.
“The zone was hard to defend tonight," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. "Overall we did not get into the flow that we wanted to accomplish. Credit to USC."
Suddenly, the bombastic offense of the Bruins slowed. Turnovers led to extra USC possessions where the Trojans found they could get open looks as long as they move the ball. When it didn't have an open three-point shot, USC seemed to have an alley-oop from McLaughlin to Metu or Stewart's putback slam. The crowd fed off the home team's highlight reel in action. The sold out Galen Center was as raucous as seen during Enfield's tenure.
"This was as good an atmosphere I've ever seen with the excitement, the energy," Enfield said. "It was just a great college basketball environment and we came out on the winning end. For tonight, and tonight only, we played a very good game and this atmosphere was sensational."
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