(News4usonline) – There are many great rivalries. College sports produce some of the best of them. UCLA and USC are two of the biggest rivals in the nation, and constantly fight it out for bragging rights in the city.
The two do not like each other in general, but the recent success of both schools’ basketball programs has rekindled the fire. And make no mistake about it, both USC and UCLA will be playing for a national title after they receive their respective invites to play in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins, through tradition and the way they played last season (a surprise run to the Final Four), were expected to be one of the better teams in the nation. There was such expectation for the Trojans following the departure of Evan Mobley to the NBA.
When it comes to an entrenched winning tradition, the Bruins have it. John Wooden came on as UCLA’s head coach in 1948. Ten national championships and 620 wins later, the Bruins dominated not only the Trojans, but the entire sports landscape during the Wooden era.
The Bruins’ run in the late 1960s and early 1970s is arguably one of the greatest winning streaks in basketball history. During that span, UCLA won 88 consecutive games and collected seven straight NCAA titles.
The success under Wooden has led to UCLA holding the edge over USC in terms of all-time record. Since the 1949-50 season, UCLA has beaten USC 122 times, while the Trojans have only won 55 times against their crosstown foe.
Recently the rivalry has taken a different turn. Since 2008, over the last 32 meetings between the two teams, the matchups have been back and forth, with win streaks piled together by both programs.
The tally is 18 to 14 in favor of the Bruins, but during that time each team has accumulated win streaks of 4 plus games on 3 separate occasions against each other.
Both schools are on the rise in terms of the national ranks. USC head coach Andy Enfield took over the Trojans men’s basketball program in 2013 and has led USC to 20-win seasons six times.
He has established a culture within the basketball program, and another strong showing in the postseason can go a long way in terms of backing up the culture with results.
“We have the sixth-ranked recruiting class in the country coming in here next year…. We got a lot of good players coming, and a lot of good players coming back. I think the trajectory of this program will keep going (up),” Enfield said in his postgame press conference after a game against Arizona.
Mick Cronin is only in his third season as the head coach of UCLA, and his Bruins are hungry after returning a number of key players from their Final Four appearance in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Cronin appears to be on the brink of establishing UCLA as one of the top college basketball programs in the nation again, but they will have to prove that their deep run into the tournament last year was not a fluke.
Saturday was the first time UCLA has beaten USC under Cronin. When asked about the significance of the win, he chose to focus on the ultimate goal rather than the rivalry.
“I don’t think about that stuff as much as you guys do… I really have tried to train myself to focus on coaching and what we are trying to accomplish to get better… it’s great but there are no banners going up,” Cronin said in his post-game press conference.
Ranked second and third in the Pac-12 behind No. 2 Arizona, the two rivals are battling it out this season in order to be seen as the premier basketball destination in Southern California.
At this point it is more than just the rivalry between the two schools, it is also a battle for support and recruits. After both teams made it to the Elite Eight last year, whichever team has a stronger showing in the upcoming tournaments could pay dividends for the present and future of the program.
Even though the Bruins claimed the higher seed in the Pac-12 Tournament with the most recent win over USC, the two split the season series, and have a decent chance of matching up again down the line.
Both teams appear to be relatively healthy at the right time, and either one could give Arizona a run for the title.
“We have tried to do everything we can to get to March fresh and healthy, so we are close. Now we have the Pac-12 Tournament… I think we are a better defensive team going into the tournament (this year)….Last year we became a good defensive team when that tournament started, right now we have been much better (than last year),” Cronin said after the game when asked about his team’s chances in the postseason.
Even though UCLA has been USC’s big brother in basketball throughout history, the title for the current best college hoops team in LA is up for grabs in this year’s postseason. No one expected either team to make it as far as they did last year, but no one should be surprised if they make deep runs again.