You know your team is in trouble when the high point of the night comes right after Keith Williams Jr.'s stirring rendition of the "National Anthem." And while the UCLA players walked off to their huddle to get ready for the game, the Trojans mobbed Williams, who had also sung the anthem before the Crosstown Rivalry game at USC.
It was the last time they beat UCLA to the punch all night. And it was a cool thing to do. If, that is, you have 40 minutes of basketball in you to follow.
USC did not. Although Andy Enfield contended it wasn't as bad as it looked. And had USC cut it to seven the couple of times it had the chance in the second half, who knows?
Who knows? Well, for starters, anyone who sees the final score, 102-70, knows. Or anyone who was here, they all know.
That's a 40-point turnaround from USC's earlier win at Galen and this time, USC had its best player, 6-foot-10 swing man Bennie Boatwright, back to lead the Trojans with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"When you lose a basketball game, it doesn't matter what the final score is," Enfield said, although we're guessing the UCLA fans in this sold-out Pauley Pavilion crowd of 13,569 would beg to differ.
They were already going home with a blue UCLA T-shirt, $5 off on their next Buffalo Wild Wings order, a free Chick-fil-A sandwich and a pack of UCLA gummy bears for the way their Bruins had throttled the hapless Trojans.
And if you think the score didn't matter, that was USC talking. The Bruins left their starters in to the last minute. USC football gets 50. Bruins basketball goes for 100. Not that there was much attempt to stop them after this one started to get out of hand.
"Effortless" would be a good way to describe this USC defense. They couldn't guard 'em in their zone and couldn't stop 'em in their man. Not that UCLA planned to allow that.
The first time these teams played, UCLA allowed USC defenders time to come out and crowd them on the perimeter. This time the 24-3 Bruins (11-3 in the Pac-12) didn't wait. They hit their threes quickly. Or their dunks. Or their dribble-drive layups. Or their folos. Or in the case of 7-foot Thomas Welsh, those wide-open 12-foot baseline flat-footed set shots with no one near him, they just stood there and shot it.
Or they'd act like they were going to shoot it, as 6-11 Bruin backup to freshman T.J. Leaf, G.G. Goloman, did once to see if he could get a clearly-not-ready-for-the-NBA Chimezie Metu to jump into the stands on the deep fake from three before dribbling by for an easy dunk. [Ed. Note: Earlier version of this story had Leaf doing the dunking. Credit Bruins fans for pointing this out. From where you sit at the top of Pauley's really poorly designed press box, they really all do look alike.]
How easy was it for these Bruins. Not a single one of their starters -- all in double figures -- hit on less than 50 percent of their field goal attempts -- and just one, Isaac Hamilton, who was six for 12 for his 13 points, hitat the 50 percent mark. Welsh was eight of 10 on the way to his 16. Lonzo Ball was six of nine for 15. And Bryce Alford, who looked like a potted plant at Galen, hit on eight of 15 --- five of nine from three -- for a game-high 26.
Add those up and that's 61 percent for the UCLA starters. Then go to the other column and you'll see a USC team that hit a cool one of every three shots -- 22 of 65 -- for 33.8 percent. They were 31.8 percent from three (seven of 22) and 33.8 percent overall.
"You can't catch up if you can't hit your threes," USC's Shaqquan Aaron said after lighting it up with a career-high 23 the first time these teams played. Aaron was right in line with the Trojan team, hitting three of nine.
But it wasn't just shooting that failed the Trojans. UCLA outrebounded USC, 50-33, with 15 offensive boards. And sure, some of that margin came, as Enfield said, thanks to all those missed USC shots.
Even worse was UCLA's 23-10 edge in assists led by Ball's eight and Alford's six.
And as much as Andy says the margin doesn''t matter, the NCAA seeding guys will note the 40-point swing as the season gets to the end. And note that the 21-6 Trojans, falling to 8-6 in the Pac-12, had better not stumble once in games they should win in these final four since they're right in there at the six-loss mark now with Cal and Utah, two teams USC probably should not have lost to, for a decent seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
"When you have back-to-back-to back games against teams in the Top 10, shooting 27 percent (actually it was 28 percent in the second half) from three won't cut it," Enfield said.
Nor will not guarding the other team's shooters wherever they are.
"We played hard," McLaughlin said, "but we just weren't as active . . . we couldn't get out on their guards in transition." As to why that was, "I just don't know," he said.
Boatwright said to come back and be part of a 32-point shellacking "was frustrating . . . We gotta' get better."
It was something else for sophomores Booatwright and Metu (14 points, six rebounds), "it was their first loss to UCLA," Enfield noted.
No biggie, Boatwright said. "It's just another loss."
Indeed. Just another loss.
But to UCLA, playing for a high NCAA seed and a possible Pac-12 title and an end to USC's four-game win streak over the Bruins, it was much more than just another win.
It was sandwiches and wings and gummy bears and T-shirts too.
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