UCLA future lottery pick Lonzo Ball was supposed to be on showcase last week when the Bruins took on the Trojans. Instead, USC’s fabulous freshman De'Anthony Melton stole the show in the Trojans’ 84-76 win at the Galen Center.
The 6-foot-4 Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite product shot only 4 for 10 from the field and missed half his free throw attempts, but it wasn’t his scoring that was impressive. It was everything else. Melton displayed his Swiss Army knife skills, cramming the stat sheet with nine rebounds, five assists (with no turnovers), four steals and a block to go with his 13 points.
It was the first time in five games Melton had reached double figures. He was 7 for 33 (21.2%) in the previous four games. But Melton broke free from his small shooting slump as the Trojans also did over the last five halves. Shaqquan Aaron broke free from a prolonged drought with a career-high 23 points on 6 of 12 shooting, including four 3-pointers.
“It just means a lot for everyone to finally see someone start going,” Melton said about Aaron’s hot night. “Stew [Elijah Stewart] is still hitting shots now. Mac [Jordan McLaughlin] started hitting shots. I was in a little shooting slump too. It just shows how dangerous we are when everyone is hitting shots. It doesn't have to be scorching hot, but still hitting some shots.”
While USC finally found its collective shooting stroke, UCLA still shot 8.1 percent better on the night. But the Bruins and their freshman point guard couldn’t take care of the ball. Ball struggled to a career-high seven turnovers and Melton was one of the reasons with his long arms and anticipation to deflect balls in USC’s 2-3 zone, which helped slow the Bruins to only 76 points — well below their average — after they began the game 8-0.
“We were just active,” Melton said of the Trojans' zone defense. “We were just hands up high and making them throw over us. Our zone was just way more active. We were just continuously, every possession playing hard. We took little possessions off and we were just having fun out there.”
The typically active Melton said it was easy for the entire team to buy in defensively with the electric atmosphere in the arena. The Trojans drew energy from the crowd and reciprocated with big dunks, clutch threes and important defensive stops. Melton performed in all three categories. He threw down a monster dunk on a fast break. He made two of his five threes after having only made one the previous four games combined. The second one came with just over four minutes remaining, pushing USC’s lead to an insurmountable nine points. It was yet another example of Melton being unfazed by the moment.
“Everyone has to play the same game that I play. Everyone laces up their shoes the same way. Once we step on the floor, there's no rankings. There's no who does this, who does that. It's just who comes to play that game that day. That's all that matters.”
Even with a rowdy crowd getting you hyped up?
“Act like you've been here before. Don't let the crowd determine how you play. If the crowd starts getting loud and rowdy, just play your game. Don't start forcing too much stuff. Just play your game.”
Watch De'Anthony Melton, above, talk about his first rivalry game against UCLA, including the atmosphere, facing off against Lonzo Ball and the Trojans breaking out of their shooting slump.