USC blows out UCLA to advance in Pac-12 tournament

The No. 7 Trojans defeated the No. 10 Bruins 95-71 on Wednesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas to advance in the Pac-12 tournament.

USC finished with a perfect 3-0 record against UCLA this season, the first three-game sweep since the 1941-1942 season.

Despite the Bruins’ 96-70 victory over the Trojans just a year ago in the Pac-12 tournament, USC found a way to overcome UCLA thanks to clutch 3-point shooting, strong defensive play, superior rebounding and effective ball distribution.

“It was our intensity on defense,” sophomore Jordan McLaughlin said in a post-game interview with the Pac-12 Network. “When we get stops and are able to get in transition … we were able to get easy buckets.”

USC was up 14-2 early, opening 4-of-5 from 3-point range. The Bruins closed the lead to just four, but, like the teams’ last two meetings, the small lead would not last for long, as the Men of Troy exploded for 18 points in the last six minutes of the first half, entering halftime with a 48-29 advantage.

Junior guard Julian Jacobs was the game’s leading scorer and distributor in the first half, ending the half with 11 points to go along with seven assists, while UCLA’s leading scorer Bryce Alford was held without a field goal in the first half.

After 20 minutes of gameplay, freshmen forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu combined for 15 of USC’s 48 points off of 63 percent shooting. Three electrifying dunks from Metu and three deep 3-pointers from Boatwright signaled USC’s control of the first half.

Boatwright led the Trojans with 19 points, making 5-of-9 from distance. McLaughlin added 18 points, while junior forward Nikola Jovanovic finished with 16. Metu added 10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

“We just wanted to come out and just keep doing what we were doing in those two games [against UCLA],” Metu told the Pac-12 Network. “Coach ran some great plays, and I found a way to drive to the basket.”

The Trojans continued to excel in the second half. To start the half, USC extended its lead to 23 points on a free throw by Jovanovic, giving the Trojans a 54-31 advantage.

It helped that UCLA sophomore forward Thomas Welsh fouled out with 9:09 left in the game. Before Welsh fouled out, the junior was leading the Bruins with 12 points.

Without Welsh’s scoring and rebounding threats, Metu and Boatwright dominated the interior, finishing the contest with a combined 20 rebounds and 29 points.

95 points is the most USC has ever scored against UCLA and the Trojans ended the night with seven players with nine points or more.

With their historic 24-point win over the Bruins, the Trojans solidified their place in not only the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, but also a likely spot in the subsequent NCAA tournament.

The Trojans will go on to face No. 2 Utah in the second round on Thursday night.

“Utah’s a really tough team, but we feel we match up really well with them,” Metu said. “We’re just going to watch film and get ready for tomorrow.”

The Utes and Trojans are set to tip off at 6:15 p.m.