On the day of the Oscars, the Trojans were left seeing stars at the Galen Center.
After USC defeated the Bruins in Westwood on Jan. 30, UCLA returned the favor in dominant fashion Sunday, defeating the Trojans 75-59. USC (12-15, 7-7 in Pac-12) rallied down the stretch to cut a 25-point second half deficit to just nine with just over four minutes to play, but the run stopped there. The Trojans missed their final nine shots and by the time UCLA’s David Wear went to the free throw line with UCLA (20-7, 10-4) up 71-59 and under two minutes to go, USC was down for the count.
“We didn’t come ready to play,” said junior center Omar Oraby. “Games like these, it’s not about talent. It’s about who plays harder, and (UCLA) played harder.”
The Trojans lost their second game in a row after they blew a 15-point second-half lead at Cal to end to their four-game winning streak. USC falls to 12-15 on the season and 7-7 in Pac-12 play, with the loss all but eliminating any shot of a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins improve to 20-7 overall and 10-4 in conference play.
Junior shooting guard J.T. Terrell had 14 points in the second half to finish with a team-high 17 while Oraby had 11, his highest scoring output in a Pac-12 game this season. Senior forward Eric Wise pitched in 10 points, while junior forward Dewayne Dedmon had 12 rebounds and three blocks. Senior point guard Jio Fontan struggled mightily, scoring just four points on two-of-11 shooting.
“Other guys have to step up,” USC head coach Bob Cantu said. “Jio’s shots just didn’t go down for him tonight.”
Shooting guard Jordan Adams led UCLA with 20 points on 7-11 shooting, while Wear had 10 points and 11 rebounds starting in place of his injured brother, Travis.
Any rivalry loss hurts, but the lack of competitiveness early was surprising for a USC team that had been 5-4 under interim head coach Bob Cantu heading into Sunday. The Bruins blitzed USC early and often, scoring the game’s first seven points and racing out to a 17-4 lead less than five minutes in. Plagued by awful transition defense and even worse shot selection on the offensive end, the Trojans found themselves in a double-digit hole for most of the opening half. UCLA opened on a 10-of-13 tear on the offensive end, while the turnover-happy Trojans shot just four-of-17 in the early going.
“Never once did I think we couldn’t come back and win, but unforced turnovers [are] where we gave the game away,” Terrell said. ”We had turnovers and bad execution, and gave up easy baskets.”
Everything that went right for USC in Westwood turned on the Trojans this time around. USC dared UCLA to take the outside shot, and the Bruins nailed six of their 10 3-pointers in the first half. Though many expected USC to have the decided advantage in the post with Travis Wear out, the Bruins also matched the Trojans in the paint in the opening half.
The Trojans cut the deficit to ten at 29-19 with 8:27 left in the half, but the Bruins kept surging. Fueled by an up-tempo style that the Trojans couldn’t keep up with, UCLA went on a 10-3 run to take a 47-26 advantage into the half, USC’s second-biggest halftime deficit all season.
“We struggled offensively early and got in a big hole, and we couldn’t get out of it,” Cantu said.
The Trojans’ offense started off the second half on a better note, making four of their first six shots. The defensive effort didn’t show up out the tunnel though. The Bruins continued to carve up the Trojans down low, pushing the lead to 51-26 after two quick layups by guard Kyle Anderson. The Trojans countered with a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 18 at 51-33, and from there the sides went back and forth. Already a chippy game full of fouls and aggressive play, the tension reached a peak at 59-42. After a Wise foul, Oraby and UCLA guard Norman Powell got in a scuffle for the ball. Both where whistled for a technical foul.
This also led to a questionable move by Cantu. Oraby scored the next possession, but committed his third foul a minute later with 10:31 to go. Cantu pulled the 7-foot-2 center out of the game for good, going small down the stretch despite Oraby having his way in the post the entire game, finishing five of six from the floor.
“It’s the coach’s decision, and I don’t know why he did that,” Oraby said about being sat down after the foul. The Bruins shot just 33.3 percent in the second half, but USC’s offense sputtered when it mattered most.
USC plays next on Wednesday against Arizona at the Galen Center, with tipoff scheduled for 6:30 p.m.