That was just what everyone thought would happen with UCLA’s 83-72 win over Southern Cal, right? There are some keys to our victory I will get to in a second but, first, a bit on Southern Cal. All season I have thought this game would be key, whether it was key to winning the Pac-12, making the NCAA Tournament, or Alford keeping his job, this game was it. My last prediction was this with 8 games left:
Southern Cal is playing well but on any given night they might decide not to play defense.
UCLA shot 60% in the first half, over 50% for the game and 48% from three. Southern Cal, on their Senior Night, did not bother to play defense.
First, let’s look at the key emotional moment of the game and the most unlikely hero. From the Daily News story entitled: Alec Wulff and other hungry Bruins keep their season going:
He came in with the Bruins leaking oil, trailing 30-20 at USC. After Aaron Holiday hit a 3-pointer, Wulff found himself with the basketball and with nobody in his face. Never mind that he hadn’t made a shot that counted in the calendar year of 2018 or that he had only played 15 minutes all season.
Wulff pulled up and shot. Boom.
The UCLA bench went into rave mode. Anyone looking for signs that might be omens marked it down. USC 30, UCLA 26, 7:05 left in the first half.
But in the first-half bleakness, that shot seemed to transfer energy. UCLA was still down three at halftime and down eight with 15:55 left. The Bruins sorted out their defense, took over the boards, and rode yet another full shift by Holiday to a season sweep (so far) of the Trojans.
Wulff is a good basketball player who can make a wide open three. He is the least athletic person to play last night, but, in a sense, Southern Cal let him beat them the only way he could. Of course, leaving Wulff, a walk on, wide open is maybe understandable but not Kris Wilkes and Aaron Holiday, as Ben Bolch of the LA Times writes:
The Trojans’ four-game winning streak ended largely because of their defensive shortcomings. They did little to slow Holiday or Kris Wilkes, who scored 22 points despite playing the second half with five stitches on his lip after getting inadvertently head-butted by teammate Prince Ali while trying to help him up off the court.
While the Trojans’ defense was awful, UCLA did have to overcome not having Jaylen Hands who was out with an injury as well as the truly awful play of Prince Ali last night. Ali was 1-9 and even when he tried to help bad things happen:
Wilkes received five stitches in his upper lip at halftime after taking a hit of friendly fire on the final play of the first half. After redshirt sophomore Prince Ali’s wild layup at the buzzer was no good, Wilkes rushed over to help his teammate up, but center Thomas Welsh had already started to pull Ali up. Ali then hit Wilkes in the mouth. His blood ran onto the Galen Center court.
While Hands was missed, Wilkes and another guy carried UCLA in the first half:
Wilkes and Holiday willed the Bruins through a competitive first half with 15 and 14 points, respectively, as UCLA crawled back from a 10-point first-half deficit. The next closest scorer for UCLA was Alec Wulff, who banged in his one shot of the first half, a 3-pointer.
Then, there’s that other guy who carried UCLA for the game. Aaron Holiday deserves a lot of credit for a great game. Holiday would be a lock for Pac-12 Player of the Year if not for Deandre Ayton. He showed why last night:
Holiday carried the Bruins to an 83-72 victory over USC on Saturday night at the Galen Center, squeezing every ounce of effort out of his 40 minutes and allowing himself another moment to celebrate when he clapped his hands after dribbling out the game’s final seconds.
Holiday finished with 34 points on 11-for-16 shooting to go with seven assists and five rebounds to help the Bruins (20-10 overall, 11-7 Pac-12 Conference) sweep their season series with the Trojans (21-10, 12-6) while enhancing their NCAA tournament chances.
”What a monster effort for him,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said after his team posted its fourth consecutive victory in the cross-town rivalry.
Thank you, Aaron Holiday!
You have been amazing this year. UCLA earned a 4th seed and an all important first-round bye for the Pac-12 Tournament last night.
I have been told, but have not verified that Dan Guerrero was at the game. This was not a good thing for Alford. A blow out loss may have been it for Alford. However, the win means Alford likely gets into the tournament and now almost certainly keeps his job. Also, as ESPN notes, UCLA did its best against the Pac-12’s best:
3-0 AGAINST THE BEST
The Bruins went 3-0 against Arizona and USC, the league’s top two teams. They upset the Wildcats in Tucson and swept the Trojans. “Every win gives us confidence that we can beat the next team,” Wilkes said.
For the glass half-full types this means, we have a shot against anyone. For the glass half-empty types, how the heck did we finish fourth?
Let’s do well in the Pac-12 tournament. Let’s make Selection Sunday a no worry event.