The battle for college basketball supremacy in Los Angeles took place at Pauley Pavilion Saturday. In a heavyweight boxing-type contest between USC and UCLA, both teams threw their best punches back-and-forth.
The game saw 18 lead changes, but only one victor standing at the final buzzer — the UCLA Bruins.
USC’s six-game conference winning streak was snapped with a thrilling 82-79 loss to UCLA in Westwood. Despite leading the game for over 25 minutes, USC was on the short end of the scoreboard at the end of the game.
The Trojans (17-7 overall, 8-3 in Pac-12) have now lost their last three contests to the Bruins, dating back to last season.
“It hurts, we hate losing,” senior guard Jordan McLaughlin said. “That’s all we can really say, it just hurts.”
With 10 seconds remaining in regulation and trailing by three, the Trojans still had a chance to send the contest to overtime. McLaughlin’s possible game-tying 3-pointer clanked off the iron as a miss. Just seconds later, freshman guard Jordan Usher put up another 3-point field goal attempt, only to air ball as time on the clock expired.
“We played hard enough to win that game, we just missed some shots down the stretch,” Trojans head coach Andy Enfield said. “And [UCLA] made a couple. Both teams played at a high level. That was a great college basketball game.”
Shortly before Usher’s air ball, USC had an opportunity to win the game with under 30 seconds left in play. After a pair of free throws from senior guard Elijah Stewart, the Trojans trailed the Bruins by a point, 80-79.
On the ensuing Trojans possession, redshirt junior guard Shaqquan Aaron fired a jump shot that entirely missed the basket and was rebounded by UCLA (16-7, 7-4) with 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
USC would intentionally foul, and the Bruins would extend their lead to the final score of 82-79 on free throws from senior center Thomas Welsh.
Welsh, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer for UCLA with under one minute left in play, finished Saturday with 21 points (8-of-15 FG) and eight rebounds. UCLA junior guard Aaron Holiday recorded a game-high 23 points (7-of-10 FG). Holiday scored 10 points in the final 10 minutes of the game, providing a late boost for the Bruins.
Offensive droughts for USC came at the most inopportune times. Over the final 3:12 in regulation, the Trojans missed six of the final seven shots they attempted.
“A lot of [the misses] were just in the rim, in-and-out … It was just frustrating,” said Stewart, who scored 12 points in the second half. “We kept trying to feed the post, [UCLA] was guarding pretty well … Shots just didn’t open up.”
A layup from Stewart gave USC a 69-60 lead with just over eight minutes left in play. The following four minutes saw USC shoot 1-for-5 from the floor and score just 3 points. UCLA capitalized by going on a 13-3 run, which gave them a 73-72 lead over USC with under four minutes remaining.
Midway through the first half, sophomore guard Jonah Mathews hit a 3-point field goal that gave the Trojans what would be their largest lead of the entire game at 27-16. Another offensive coldspell hit USC, as the team would score only one field goal over the next seven-plus minutes.
Offensively, UCLA put together a complete game. The Bruins finished Saturday shooting 29-of-57 (51 percent) from the field. From beyond the arc, UCLA converted on 12-of-26 (46 percent) shot attempts.
“The [defense] was just not quite there,” Enfield said. “[We can’t] allow the opponent to shoot 51 percent from the field.”
Offensively, USC was able to finish the game shooting 30-for-70 (43 percent) overall from the field.
After missing the last two games due to a foot injury, junior forward Bennie Boatwright returned to action against UCLA. In nine minutes, Boatwright recorded 2 points on 0-of-5 shooting from the field.
Four Trojans scored in double figures Saturday: Stewart (team-high 20 points), Aaron (14 points), sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic (14 points) and junior forward Chimezie Metu (11 points).
Aaron scored 12 of his 14 total points in the first eight minutes of the contest, as USC raced out to an early double-digit lead over UCLA.
In a losing effort, the Trojans out-rebounded the opponent, 38-32. USC received double-double efforts from Metu, who recorded a game-high 12 rebounds, and Rakocevic, who reeled in 10 boards.
A pair of layups late in the first half from Stewart gave the Trojans a narrow 41-40 lead at the half.
USC was able to convert on UCLA’s 12 turnovers, scoring 16 points off of the Bruins’ turnover miscues.
Despite the loss, the Trojans are still in second place in Pac-12 standings behind No. 9 Arizona (19-4, 9-1).
The Trojans will stay on the road this week, as they travel to Arizona to battle a pair of Pac-12 opponents in Arizona State (16-6, 4-6) and Arizona.
“We’ve been doing this for a while …. We’ve been through it all,” Stewart said. “Still hasn’t broke us. We can get stronger.”