The USC men’s basketball team was unable to put an end to its four game losing streak on Wednesday night, falling to the UCLA Bruins (15-11, 8-6) by a score of 64-54. The Trojans (6-21, 1-13) dropped their fifth straight game and are just 1-14 in their past 15 contests.
USC returned to its former homecourt, the Los Angeles Sports Arena, for the first time since 2006 to face off against its crosstown rivals. UCLA is making repairs to the Pauley Pavilion and has been using the arena as its venue for the season.
“That’s a good team there,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said of the Bruins. “They were picked 12th nationally and to win our league. I think you have to take into consideration that they haven’t played a home game all year. These guys have been forced to play at a neutral site every single game.”
The Bruins jumped out to an early advantage over the Trojans, starting the game on a 10-2 run. USC struggled shooting the ball in the first half, finishing 7-29 (24 percent) compared to UCLA’s 14-27 (52 percent). They trailed going into the break, 31-16.
“It comes down to shot-making with us,” O’Neill said. “We didn’t make any shots in the first half and shot 39 percent for the game.”
USC outscored the Bruins in the second half by a five-point margin — 38-33 — but couldn’t fully recover from an early deficit. Still, the Trojans managed to avoid another blowout at the hands of UCLA, as was the case on Jan. 15 in a 66-47 loss.
“We approach every game the same, we just took a different type of initiative to not fold and to keep fighting,” sophomore guard Maurice Jones said.
Freshman guard Byron Wesley led the Trojans with 16 points and seven rebounds, shooting 5-11 from the floor and 6-10 from the free throw line. He earned high praise from O’Neill for his performance.
“I think he’s becoming a really legit [player],” O’Neill said. ‘We want him to be aggressive to the basket.”
Also joining Wesley in double figures was sophomore forward Garrett Jackson, who added 15 points, four steals and three blocks.
The Bruins, meanwhile, were paced by twin forwards David and Travis Wear, who contributed a combined 30 points and 24 rebounds.
“They’re really, really good players,” O’Neill said. “They’re only redshirt sophomores, they’ve both got two years left to play … Their frontline is as good as anyone’s in the country other than North Carolina probably.”
The Trojans will get their longest break of the season —eight days — before traveling to Arizona to take on the Wildcats (18-8, 9-4) on Feb. 23.
The Wildcats have won four straight games, including road victories against Stanford and the Pac-12 leading California.
In their first meeting on Jan. 8, USC fell to Arizona at the Galen Center by a score of 57-46. USC has four games remaining this season before the Pac-12 tournament.
“Just getting some rest is going to help,” Jones said. “We only play about six, seven guys playing 20-30 minutes apiece. That’s the most important thing as we try to get these last four games.”