In the shortest road trip that USC will take all season, the Trojans’ men’s basketball team traveled to Westwood to take on the UCLA Bruins Saturday.
UCLA has historically had the upper hand over USC, entering the game with a 143-110 all-time advantage, but on Saturday, the Trojans did not let history repeat itself.
After coming off their worst loss of the season against the Washington Huskies last Sunday, the Trojans regained some bragging rights in Westwood, defeating the Bruins 74-63.
Head coach Andy Enfield and the Trojans played a complete game in the winning effort. USC led UCLA in almost every statistical category of the game. The Trojans held the Bruins to a 37.9% shooting percentage and won the rebounding battle 35-31.
“I thought our players really moved the ball well, they took great shots,” Enfield said. “I thought we tried to take care of the ball as best as we could, their press bothered us a little bit but it also gave us transition opportunities throughout the game.”
USC was happy to be back in Los Angeles after spending nearly an entire week in the Pacific Northwest, where it started conference play 1-1 against WSU and UW. After shooting a measly 20% against Washington, USC knew it needed to improve.
UCLA entered the game with an 8-7 overall record after losing three of its last four games. The slump left the Bruins tied with the Trojans with matching 1-1 conference records.
It took time for the Trojans to gain momentum, but after a back and forth first half affair that ended with the Trojans up by 2, USC ran away with the lead in the second half. The Trojans came out of halftime on fire, making six of their first seven shots, and shot 70% from the field while pulling down 18 rebounds over the last 20 minutes of the game.
USC finished the game shooting more than 57%, a major improvement after recording its worst shooting percentage of the season against UW at a dismal 20%. Four of USC’s starters finished with at least 10 points, a good sign for Enfield’s team after just one player — freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu — barely reached that mark Sunday.
Freshman guard Ethan Anderson led the Trojans with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting while junior guard Chris Smith led the Bruins with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Senior forward Nick Rakocevic offered a standout performance with a game-high 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds while also adding three blocks.
“Nick played like an all-conference big man tonight … He was so solid defensively,” Enfield said. “He just played great basketball … [I’m] very, very proud of Nick.”
USC is now 13-3 on the season and 2-1 in conference play. The Trojans have already doubled their road wins from last season, when they only won two true road games. For a program that has not won the Pac-12 regular season championship since 1985, the results offer some encouragement.
“We’re 13-3 right now. We won four true road games,” Enfield said. “So this is a big win to cap this off because we get to go home next week.”
USC returns home to Galen Center this Thursday to take on the Cal Bears at 7:30 p.m.