ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 05: Tyler Lamb #1 came to UCLA in part for the USC v. UCLA rivalry. Senior Jerime Anderson #5 plays his last road game against USC. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Last year Reeves Nelson was nonplussed about the USC vs. UCLA game, infamously saying it was a bigger deal to alumni. While Reeves is coming up short in Lithuania, this year Bruins team seeming has the right attitude for tonight's game at 6 p.m. PST, no matter how bad USC is looking right now. .
"Us versus USC, that's the battle of L.A. and one of the biggest rivalries, so we always want to beat them," Lamb said. "It's still a big deal. This game is not just between us. It's for us as well as our alumni, and they're playing for themselves as well as their alumni. USC and UCLA has always been a huge rivalry, and that's part of the reason why I came here."
While another "professional player" who left early Tyler Honeycutt (the king of playing with less than 100% effort) is gone. Tyler would have certainly cruised in this game, knowing that he could probably turn it on whenever he wanted and UCLA would likely still win. Fortunately some of the guys still around from last year have the right attitude. Lazeric Jones got it right when he said last year:
"I felt like I wasn't a true Bruin until I beat USC."
Monday night UCLA senior guard Lazeric Jones, who as a junior college transfer has only briefly experienced the rivalry, sent a message on Twitter that he was watching the rebroadcast of a 2002 UCLA-USC game from the Sports Arena.
"It was nuts, it was crazy," he said. "It was really good." Jones noted how impressive it was to see eventual NBA players Earl Watson and Dan Gadzuric on the floor. And USC's Brian Scalabrine, who is still playing in the NBA. "I knew Brian was good," Jones said. "I did not know he was that good."
Jones said he realized how important the USC-UCLA rivalry was when he walked onto the Galen Center court last year, well before tipoff. "I was the only person, by myself, and I got booed. Everyone knew exactly who I was."
And it is not just the veterans who understand the importance of this game.
"This is a big game for us," said David Wear, UCLA's top rebounder who will be playing in the rivalry for the first time. "I don't think we're going to overlook them just because they haven't won a game in the Pac-12."
Yes, USC is bad and UCLA should take advantage of that but I also agree with a USC player and Howland when they say:
"It's a rivalry game, so we've got to come out and play like it's a rivalry game with energy and force," USC's Dewayne Dedmon said.
. . .
"They're going to be very difficult on their home floor," Howland said. "You can throw out all records. It's all about UCLA playing USC. They're going to have all their fans there. We'll get a couple hundred tickets."
The home court factor in the Pac-12 can't be underestimated. Going into the week, Colorado was undefeated at home. On the road they lost twice, including getting blown out by Stanford. But this is a game UCLA "must win" over a bad USC team that is just not ready, according to their coach:
"These guys are going to end up having a lot of success, probably not this year," third-year USC coach Kevin O'Neill said about his team. "They're just in roles they can't handle now. They're a little overwhelmed."
This team can go a long way not only toward their goals of winning but winning over fans if they play hard the whole game against USC and put them away. While there have been too many articles and ink recently on Josh Smith, he is obviously a guy who really needs to show not only UCLA fans but his teammates he is going to give a 100%. In that vein, Jerime Anderson is teasing him a bit for costing him assists when he misses the bunnies and or doesn't dunk.
Guard Jerime Anderson is one of the main catalysts in that effort. A senior point guard, Anderson makes sure Smith hears about it whenever Smith misses an inside shot because he layed it up instead of dunking it.
"I tell him all the time ‘You owe me one' because sometimes in a game he goes up and he's right there at the basket and he'll lay it up softly," Anderson said. "And I'll just say ‘You owe me one.' And it just kept growing to two, three, four. Now he's starting to make up for lost time."
USC should be a "bunny" tonight but this team needs to play hard. Not just for tonight for the students and fans who need a win over USC but for themselves to set the tone for the rest of the must win season.
Go Bruins. Beat SC!