LOS ANGELES, CA- After muscling his way through Jules Bernard for an and-one basket inside the right block, USC 6-foot-11 forward Nick Rakocevic pounded his chest. The Trojans extended their lead to 19 over crosstown rival UCLA and outscored them by 10 in the second half to earn an 80-67 home victory.
USC improves to 10-8 on the season and 3-2 in Pac-12 competition. After snapping a four-game losing streak to UCLA, the Trojans sit inside the Pac-12’s top half. Bennie Boatwright poured in 21 points and snatched seven rebounds. Rakocevic contributed 21 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists. Jonah Mathews scored 16 points in 35 minutes. Shaqquan Aaron dished out a game-high seven assists. As a team, USC distributed 26 assists.
“When we share the ball like that and we’re making shots, we’re really hard to beat,” Matthews said. USC head coach Andy Enfield added, “When we have 16 assists or more we’re 10-0 this year and that’s kind of our lucky number.”
Sophomore guard Kris Wilkes posted 13 points for UCLA. Prince Ali scored 15 and shot 42.9 percent from 3-point land. Sophomore point guard Jaylen Hands supplied 15 points but turned the ball over six times. A turbulent season continues in Westwood, as UCLA falls to 10-8 overall and 3-2 in-conference. The Bruins fired head coach Steve Alford Dec. 31 after a slow start to the season. Former assistant Murry Bartow will finish the season as head coach, UCLA has announced.
After missing time due to injury, USC star freshman Kevin Porter Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for personal conduct issues. Jordan Usher, who averaged 8.6 points in 12 games, transferred from USC to Georgia Tech. Despite the early season drama, USC improves to 9-2 at home.
The Trojans blitzed UCLA out of the gates, jumping out to a 16-4 lead nearly five minutes in. Aaron came away with two early steals and Rakocevic scored 6 of USC’s first 16 points. UCLA charged back to take a 23-22 advantage with just over seven minutes left in the first half.
“We gave great effort and challenged shots,” Enfield said. “I thought our guys hung in there and got out to shooters.”
Boatwright splashed two consecutive left wing 3-pointers to open second-half play. A Rakocevic dunk and Elijah Weaver 3 put USC ahead by double digits, 53-42, six minutes in. Trailing by as many as 26, UCLA cut the Trojan lead to 15 with 24 seconds left.
USC 6-foot-3 redshirt junior point guard Derryck Thornton blocked an Ali corner 3-point attempt as the Trojans led 29-27. Hands scored twice to end the first half, UCLA trailing 36-33. Matthews and Boatwright scored 7 points each.
Aaron dished out a team-high six assists. Wilkes led all first-half scorers with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The Trojans held UCLA to 11.1 percent shooting (1-of-9) from beyond the arc throughout the first 20 minutes of action.
The Trojans shot 41.4 percent from the 3-point line and led for more than 36 minutes of action.
— Blake Atwell (@blakeatwell5) January 19, 2019
“They played a lot of zone and we knew we had to make a high number of 3’s to have a chance to beat this team,” Enfield said.
UCLA outrebounded USC 44-38 and outscored them in bench points, 22-10. The Bruins committed 20 turnovers, leading to 24 points for USC.
USC hosts Arizona next up on Jan. 24. The Trojans have lost their last five to Arizona, but are 6-4 against the Wildcats at Galen Center. USC finishes their three-game homestand against Arizona State before hitting the road for matchups with Washington and Washington State.
“It’s a big stretch for us in the season,” Enfield said.
UCLA leads the all-time series against USC, 142-109.
“We hadn’t beat [UCLA] in the last four tries since my freshman year, so that holds weight,” Matthews said. “We took it to them and it was personal for all of us.”
The Bruins are now 8-5 over their last 13 games played at Galen Center. Home games versus Arizona State and Arizona loom next for UCLA.