When USC and UCLA meet in any sport, there tends to be a lot on the line. There might be a conference title at stake. Other times, postseason hopes are at stake. Ultimately, the rivalry is always for city bragging rights, regardless of record or standing.
But this year, neither team has a whole lot to brag about. The Trojans have six wins and are last in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, the Bruins, who began the season in the top 25, have stumbled to a 15-11 record. Unless either team makes an incredible run and somehow wins the conference tournament, these teams will be left home on Selection Sunday when March Madness comes around.
So when the Trojans and the Bruins battled at the Sports Arena Wednesday night, it hardly seemed like a game that would inspire much emotion. One year of subpar basketball, however, should not turn fans away from the crosstown rivalry. Many forget that this rivalry has seen its share of great moments.
Though football memories tend to dominate, such as O.J. Simpson running through the entire UCLA defense in the 1960s, the hardwood has given us plenty of reasons to keep an eye on the USC-UCLA rivalry after the fall season ends:
Beginning in 1932, USC beat the Bruins for 11 straight years. Famous UCLA coach John Wooden beat the Trojans 61 times during his time in Westwood. The overall record in the rivalry? UCLA leads, but not by as much as you might think: 130-104.
In 1970, the Trojans were the top-ranked team in the country. UCLA, though, beat USC twice in the season, which were USC’s only losses of the season. UCLA won the conference, and the Trojans, despite a 24-2 record, were left out of the NCAA Tournament.
Lew Alcindor — later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — and the UCLA team beat the Trojans in double overtime in 1968. In that season, Alcindor averaged 26.2 points and 16.5 rebounds per game.
In 1985, the Trojans and Bruins played at the Sports Arena with the conference title on the line. The Trojans came out victorious in quadruple overtime. That season, the Trojans went to the NCAA tournament but the Bruins did not.
Let’s not forget the stars who have played in this rivalry. For UCLA, you have centers Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, guard Marques Johnson, forward Sidney Wicks, guard Arron Afflalo, forward Kevin Love, guards Walt Hazzard and Reggie Miller, among many others. The Trojans have a pretty solid list too, including guard DeMar DeRozen, forward Taj Gibson, guard O.J. Mayo, guard Paul Westphal and guard Nick Young.
The latest memorable game against the two schools took place in 2008, when Mayo and Love led the Trojans and the Bruins, respectively. The teams met for a rare third time in the Pac-10 tournament. The Bruins won the game by three points with Love, the first team All-American and future fifth overall draft pick. Mayo, meanwhile, went third overall in the same draft.
Sure, the games haven’t received the hype that surrounds football games, mainly because USC has never won a national title in basketball. There have been, however, great moments and great players that have played in this rivalry. Maybe it’s not North Carolina vs. Duke, but it’s as heated as it gets when the Trojans and Bruins play.
Many of these players know each other from Amateur Athletic Union ball and high school. The relationships between players can go back years, and that makes games such as those that we saw last night even better.
There might not be much at stake for these players in terms of wins and losses in this latest edition of the series, but pride is something equally as important that the Bruins and Trojans always play for, whether the fans acknowledge it or not.
Whether it’s Lew Alcindor or Lazeric Jones for UCLA or Brian Scalebrine or Maurice Jones suiting up for the Trojans, we as fans need to bask in this rivalry, whether or not both teams are relevant on the national stage. We have had incredible moments, and who knows, maybe last night’s game provided something fans will remember for a lifetime. Only time will tell.
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