UCLA beat Southern Cal, 82-79, in a game with 18 lead changes that had a bit of everything. Since this is Southern Cal, we will start with someone old school, as reported by Thuc Nhi Nguyen in the LA Daily News:
“Thank you Coach Steve Alford for letting me address the troops after that HUGE win versus that other team cross town,” Miller wrote on Instagram. “Glad MiniMe got to see up close why it’s special to be a BRUIN. All he kept talking about on the way home, ‘Dat locker room was so cool Daddie’..”
“Those guys are who established UCLA being what it is today: a historic program with what those guys have done for this team,” senior center Thomas Welsh said Saturday of playing in front of UCLA legends. “It’s really special to be in a rivalry win with guys like that in the building.”
Here is the Reggie Miller’s Instagram post:
Thank you Coach Steve Alford for letting me address the troops after that HUGE win versus that other team cross town. Glad MiniMe got to see up close why it's special to be a BRUIN. All he kept talking about on the way home, "Dat locker room was so cool Daddie".. #HeartAndDetermination #ShareTheBasketball.. @uclaathletics @uclambb
Aaron Holiday was the star of the night, but it was Thomas Welsh who was the clutch performer who won it. First, on the go ahead shot, as quoted by Mark Whicker in his LA Daily News article:
With 52 seconds left, Welsh stood at the top of the key, a rare launching point in his first three years. Now he had thousands of 3-pointers in his bank from his summertime work all around the city. He swished this one, and the Bruins went to win, 82-79.
That was awesome. It was a close game down the stretch and to hit a shot like that—it was a three-point lead—it was huge. Stepped up, Aaron did a great job of creating a little space and I just knocked it down.
The latter is key. Southern Cal is a very talented but poorly coached team. When they did the pick and pop at the three-point line, they left Welsh. Holiday, to his credit, drove and then passed back to Welsh who buried the three. That was not Welsh’s only clutch play. Thuc Nhi Nguyen wrote:
UCLA inched ahead with a 3-pointer from Thomas Welsh with 52 seconds left. After draining the shot, Welsh extended his arms, begging for cheers from the sell-out crowd. The senior who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday then hit the clinching pair of free throws with 10 seconds left before Jordan Usher’s last-gasp 3-pointer fell off the mark.
Welsh has worked so hard the last four years. It is really fitting he was the one who hit the game wining shot and made the game clinching free throws. After the game, he said:
Nothing. Just walking down, stepping to the line, doing the same repetitions, going through my form. Just knocking them down, really. Not trying to think about it. Just step up and knock them down.
Welsh contributions were not limited to the offensive end. Mark Whicker wrote:
His dad Pat had texted him beforehand, suggesting he might score a point for each year. Welsh came up one short, with 21, but had eight rebounds and no turnovers. He never went to the free throw line until :11 remained, and he made both of those. He survived an early assault from USC’s Chimezie Metu, who was intent to deal him some fouls. He played 35 minutes. Aaron Holiday played 40. The two had 44 of the 82.
Welsh outplayed Metu and Holiday outplayed Jordan McLaughlin. The Bruins’ zone kept McLaughlin from penetrating and never let him visit the free-throw line.
Holiday gobbled up most of that with two 3-pointers, then split a double-team and hit Welsh for a go-ahead layup at the 4:42 mark. USC didn’t score in that span. December’s Bruins were defenseless receivers. Now they’re holding conference opponents to .422 shooting.
On UCLA’s defensive plan for the game, Hanson Wang of the Daily Bruin wrote this:
Defensively, UCLA tried to take away USC’s main weapons and force lesser-used players such as guard Shaqquan Aaron score the ball, Alford said.
Trojan forward Chimezie Metu only scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, in part to the Bruins’ diligence defending his screens.
“One thing they really emphasize is the middle pick and roll, especially throwing lobs up to him,” Welsh said. “Just this whole week we’ve been focusing on trying to take that opportunity away just by being better in pick and roll defense.”
UCLA also showed toughness. Though they got beat on the boards, they were in Southern Cal’s face and there was a little bit of a scuffle on what proved to be a key play. Ben Bolch of the LA Times wrote this about the play:
But the Bruins rallied with an 11-0 run that included eight points from Holiday and a tussle between USC forward Nick Rakocevic and UCLA counterpart Alex Olesinski after Olesinski flung Rakocevic to the ground near the Trojans’ basket. Olesinski was assessed a flagrant-1 foul and Rakocevic a technical foul.
Rakocevic, a 57.5% free-throw shooter, was forced to take the foul shots USC was awarded. He missed both. UCLA chose Holiday to take its technical foul free throws and he made both to pull the Bruins into a 69-69 tie.
To wrap it up, I have to give one more shout out to Thomas Welsh. Bolch quotes UCLA coach Steve Alford:
”That sucker’s unbelievable,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said of Welsh. “Great birthday present for him. He turned 22 today and gets 21 and eight wearing a mask. It’s just amazing.”
UCLA did what It had to do and had its second win against an RPI top 50 team this year. Now, they need to go on the Arizona road trip with similar energy.