USC men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill certainly took advantage of his first career matchup against crosstown rival UCLA.
O’Neill and the Trojans put on a record-breaking show Saturday, beating the Bruins 67-46 in the largest win ever for USC at Pauley Pavilion. Senior guard Dwight Lewis, who was 5 of 9 from the three-point line, led the team with 24 points while sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic added 19 points and six rebounds.
“Last week we didn’t play at our normal intensity, so I’m glad to see our guys have a great week of practice and play exceptionally well tonight,” said O’Neill. “We got off to a great start. We put ourselves in a position to win.”
The Trojans wasted no time in jumping to an early lead, as they started the first half with a 7-0 run punctuated by a Dwight Lewis three-pointer. The scoring continued from there as USC capitalized on numerous UCLA turnovers and converted them into scores, at one point widening their margin to 17 after just 14 minutes of play. Dwight Lewis had 17 of his 24 points in the first half, while the Bruins shot only 32 percent from the field and 11 percent from three-point range.
In the second half, Vucevic took charge for USC, scoring 17 of his 19 total . For the game he was on 7 for 10 shooting. He also added a long three-pointer that put the Trojans up by 24, a moment that proved to be the nail in the coffin for UCLA.
“We just gave it everything we had,” Vucevic said of their performance. “When I came [to Pauley Pavilion] for the warm-up, I felt ready to shoot today. I made the first [shot] and then the second, and that really helped my confidence.”
The Bruins continued to plague themselves with turnovers, committing five more in the second half, which brought their total to 12 for the game. They were also out-rebounded by the Trojans 37-22.
“In the beginning, coach said we wanted to jump on them early and try to impose our will,” said Lewis. “I felt like we did that, and it gave us a good chance to win the game.”
The win was USC’s second consecutive victory over the Bruins dating back to last season’s Pac-10 tournament semifinal match, although the Trojans had not won at Pauley Pavilion since the 2007-2008 season.
The 21-point margin of victory for the Trojans was also the largest against UCLA since the 1940s.
“I wasn’t aware of all the statistics or any of that stuff, but I’m glad I was a part of it,” O’Neill said. “I’m glad my team performed the way they did tonight, and I hope they perform that way the rest of the way. It’s just good to get a win like this in a big game against your rival.”