A USC team which has established an identity for itself as either a strong starter or solid finisher of games — but never both — put together its most complete performance of the season Wednesday night as it defeated No. 8 UCLA, 84-76, at the Galen Center.
The Trojans (18-4, 5-4) have now won their last four games against UCLA, dating back to last season.
After falling behind 8-0 early on in regulation, USC stormed back in the first half to take a lead it would never relinquish. A 3-pointer from redshirt sophomore guard Shaqquan Aaron put the Trojans ahead of UCLA, 29-28, with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. It was the only lead change of the game, and it was in favor of USC.
“Big games, big stage, this is the kind of game where I want to step up,” Aaron said. “I feel comfortable on most nights shooting, but tonight the shots were just falling and I kept putting up the ball.”
Aaron was the game-high scorer Wednesday night, as he recorded a career-best 23 points against the Bruins (19-3, 6-3). He finished the game shooting 4-of-9 from beyond the 3-point line and was 6-for-12 from the field overall.
After a 3-pointer from junior guard Elijah Stewart early in the second half, the Trojans took their largest lead of the night at 56-41 with 18:05 remaining in regulation.
Stewart also hit a 3-point field goal just before the halftime buzzer to give USC a 50-38 lead at the half. The Bruins trailed USC by double-digits at the break despite shooting 16-for-29 from the field in the opening period of play.
Entering the game, UCLA was averaging 11.9 turnovers per game offensively. In the first half alone against USC, the Bruins committed 13 turnovers.
USC capitalized off of UCLA’s offensive lapses in the first half, as they outscored the Bruins in points off of turnovers, 14-2, to open the game. Overall, USC recorded 12 steals defensively Wednesday night.
“Our team has always tried to steal possessions away from opponents this season,” Enfield said. “We’ve had to grind some games out this season … we’ve had to make steals, grab rebounds, block shots and at the same time limit the turnovers on our end offensively. We’ve been able to minimize turnovers, too.”
USC held UCLA senior guard Bryce Alford to 3 points on 1-of-7 shooting. Entering the game against the Trojans, Alford was leading the Bruins in scoring this season, averaging 17.2 points per game.
The Trojans held a UCLA team that was shooting above 43 percent from the 3-point line to a 6-of-20 performance from beyond the arc. USC freshman guard De’Anthony Melton put together a well-rounded performance in his first career game against UCLA. Melton flirted with a triple-double as he scored 13 points, recorded five assists and hauled in a team-high nine rebounds..
A 3-pointer from Melton with four minutes remaining put USC ahead by 10 points and helped thwart a late UCLA comeback attempt.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of personnel losses this season,” Enfield said. “We wouldn’t be 18-4 if it weren’t for the guys we have right now that are playing very well for us.”
As a team, USC finished the game shooting 14-for-34 from the 3-point line. Overall, the Trojans shot 27-of -67 from the field against the Bruins.
USC’s bench, which was led by Aaron’s career-scoring night, outscored the UCLA bench, 30-17. The Trojans came away with the victory Wednesday night despite being outscored in the paint by UCLA, 42-24.
UCLA standout freshman guard Lonzo Ball recorded a double-double against the Trojans, totaling 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in his team’s loss. For the first time this season, the Galen Center was at full-capacity attendance-wise, as 10,258 fans made their way to the Trojans’ home arena to watch them take on UCLA.
“It always feels good to be able to beat our rivals in a big game like tonight’s,” said Metu, who also finished with seven rebounds.
USC will now take the road to face Washington on Feb. 1.