"The bottom line is we had some guys get up and make some free throws," Kevin O'Neill said. "We played through some bad stretches and I am very, very proud of our team. I thought they gave a great, great effort tonight in the second half to beat a team that was playing very well."
With the 68-64 win over the Bruins at the Galen Center Sunday night, the Trojans completed their third season sweep of the Bruins in the past eight seasons.
The importance of the victory wasn't lost on first-year head coach Kevin O'Neill, who said he was aware of the passion of the crosstown rivalry following his first conversation with USC athletic director Mike Garrett.
"From the time I sat in the interview with Mike Garrett, I understood how important beating UCLA was," O'Neill said. "I'm serious. It means a lot. I don't care if its volleyball, basketball, swimming or football, I know it's an important game. We approached it this week like it's an important game, as I am sure UCLA did."
Senior guard Dwight Lewis made the most of his last opportunity against the rival Bruins by scoring a game-high 23 points, while connecting on 8-of-13 shots from the field, including 3 three-pointers.
Lewis was a major part of last year's team that won the Pac-10 Tournament Championship and has some big wins under his belt, but he admitted that sweeping UCLA still ranks high on his list accomplishments.
"It's a big rivalry and all the emotions and intensity that goes into it. You have no choice but to get a little more amped up for this game," said Lewis, who now ranks 13th on USC's all-time scoring list . "To sweep UCLA and to beat them for the first time here, it's up there."
Along with the play of Dwight Lewis, the Trojans received an unexpected spark from reserve guard Donte Smith.
The backup point guard matched his career-high in points with 12, and added some tough defense in 19 minutes off the bench for the Trojans.
"He played great. Donte was unhappy with his playing time last weekend and he and I talked about it. I told him the only way to get more playing time is to do it in practice first," O'Neill said. "He had a great week of practice, I put him in the game and he responded big time. That says a lot about him.
"Donte made some shots and did some good things defensively."
Smith has averaged just less than seven minutes of playing time in conference games, but made the most of the extended minutes Sunday night.
"When a guy is not happy about his playing time I tell everybody the same thing, ‘When you get your minutes, play them hard,' and he did," O'Neill said.
The Trojans made plenty of mistakes along the way and let the Bruins hang around to the very end.
UCLA stayed close by outrebounding USC 46-25 including 21 offensive rebounds. The Bruins outscored USC 23-9 on second-chance points but in the end, USC's superior athleticism and guard play was the difference in the game.
"We made a lot of mistakes, but you know what we did, we forced 20 turnovers with our energy," O'Neill said. "When it gets right down to it, we did execute well enough to get the win. I will take any win, anytime, anywhere."
With the win USC improved to 15-9 (7-5) on the season and are now in third place in the Pac-10.
USC guard Donte Smith scored 12 points in 19 minutes Sunday night.
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