LOS ANGELES-USC. UCLA. The Unchosen Ones did the unexpected. The Chosen Ones did the unexplained. Whenever the Trojans and Bruins hookup, achievable benchmarks get tossed right out of the window. Records become obsolete. National reputation becomes nothing more than a punchline for the school coming out on the short end of the competitive stick.
In this case, that would be the Bruins. Most of the noise around the college basketball season has focused on the out-of-the world play of guard Lonzo Ball and his UCLA teammates, especially after the Bruins upset previously top-ranked Kentucky. Meanwhile, the Trojans kept grinding under the radar, getting minimal attention paid to them. That’s been all good for the Trojans.
Because despite all of the hooping and hollering and hyperbole going on around Ball, the Trojans have played good enough to be just one game back of the Bruins in the tight Pac-12 Conference. Actually, after their 84-76 upset win of the No. 8 Bruins, one can very easily can draw the conclusion that the Trojans are breathing down their city rivals’ necks as teams jockey for position to get invited to the NCAA Tournament.
As it stands at the moment, UCLA is fourth on the Pac-12 Conference totem list. USC is now the No. 6 team, even with an 18-4 mark. This shows how tough of a road it will be to win the Pac-12 Conference. The Pac-12 Conference is an official logjam in men’s basketball. The Trojans and Bruins have made it more crowded with their play this season.
So when the Trojans and the Bruins finally got down to business of playing for local pride at the Galen Center in front of a boisterous Trojan’s’ crowd. you could tell, by the size of the filled out arena and crazy noisy atmosphere, something was on the line. City pride come into play. Improvement in the Pac-12 Conference standings was important.
A lookover from pro scouts circulated courtside from the rumor market. NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton showed up. NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter made his way down to sit in on the game, as did USC football coach Clay Helton and more than a handful of his players. It appears that the USC-UCLA men’s basketball game was the hottest ticket in town.
For the first few minutes of the first half, the Trojans played anything but hot as UCLA jumped out to an early lead. That changed dramatically when USC players decided to go into long-range launch mode. The Bruins almost didn’t stand a chance the first game played between the two teams this season. Yeah, UCLA may have jumped out to a quick lead, but this one was considered over by halftime. At least from this writer’s observation.
On their way to draining a game-high 14 3-point shots, USC bombarded UCLA right out of the game by the time the first 20 minutes had concluded. The Trojans went into the locker room up 50-38. The Cardinal and Gold didn’t let up much in the second half, racking up one 3-point shot after another. Every time the Bruins tried to make a run, a rebound here, a three-point there, and the Trojans would go back to a commanding lead.
Shaqquan Aaron had the hot hand for the Trojans, which had all starters score in double figures. Aaron dropped in 23 points for the game to lead USC. As for the much-heralded Ball, it was simply not a good night. The Trojans’ defense bottled Ball up all night, holding the star player to just 15 points and 10 rebounds.