UCLA’s last loss this season came against the Trojans on January 25th. From that point on, the Bruins would go on to win 9 straight to finish the regular season, avenging all 3 of its losses along the way.
In that respect, it makes sense that the Trojans would keep it close. And ultimately, the Bruins would finish round one of the Revenge Tour, Round 2 with a victory over Southern Cal, 76-74.
It was pretty important that UCLA had a game like this, because this was not their best game by any stretch of the imagination. Bryce Alford took over as the all-time school leader in 3-point shots made, as was expected, but went an abysmal 2-10 from the field. TJ Leaf, who played as though he hadn’t just injured his ankle last week, had a pedestrian night by his standards, getting to 14 points on an average 6-12 from the field. And Aaron Holiday had his worst game of the season by far, putting up a measly 5 points on 2-8 shooting.
As a team, the Bruins shot 41.2% from the field, including 36% (9-25) from distance. Their 76 points in this game are well below their season average in points on the season (91.3). And 13 turnovers (10 in the first half) certainly didn’t help matters.
We should also mention the officiating in this game, because it was awful, aka it was a standard night of Pac 12 officiating. Look, at this point I go into every game assuming the officiating will be bad, and yet it always manages to surprise me. USC Coach Andy Enfield spent much of the game complaining about the officiating, performing his own version of a Vegas striptease in the process, yet it was the Bruins who bore the short end of the officiating stick. UCLA had 21 fouls compared to 16 for USC, and the free throw disparity (25-13 in favor of the Trojans) almost single-handedly kept USC in the game.
And yet, despite all that, the Bruins found a way to win, and the biggest reason was the defense.
The Bruins didn’t allow the Trojans to score their first basket until the 15:04 mark in the first quarter. The Bruins held the Trojans to shooting 38.7% from the field, had 7 blocks, and outrebounded the Trojans 44-33. The Trojans couldn’t get anything going on the inside, with Chimeze Metu held well below his season average, and constantly getting picked on on both ends of the court.
In short, this managed to be both a bad game and an important win. The Bruins proved they can win when their offense isn’t working, and that their defense can do enough to carry the team when necessary.
After all, we’re now in March, and there’s only one motto that matters here: Survive and Advance.
Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins with 22 points. Thomas Welsh led the team in rebounds with 11, while Lonzo Ball led the team with 7 assists. Jordan McLaughlin led the Trojans with 18 points.
- Player of the Game: Isaac Hamilton - It’s been a rough season comparatively for Isaac; he’s seen his PPG dip from 16.8 last year to 13.7, to go along with dips in FG%, 3PFG%, and minutes. And yet tonight was a good reminder that he can get it going like nobody’s business. Hamilton shot 4-9 from distance, to go along with 4-6 inside the arc, and was the most efficient he’s been in weeks. That’s a positive sign for the Bruins, because a hot Isaac is a huge weapon to have in your offensive arsenal.
- But seriously, bad Bryce tonight - This was not a good night for Bryce. Of all the Bruins, he was the one most clearly pressing, and it made sense: senior leader, dad is the coach, need a good finish to silence the doubters. This game did more to rally the haters, though. 2-7 isn’t great from distance, and Bryce’s few drives in were familiar to fans who watched Bryce’s drives to nowhere from last season. There were a few times where the refs swallowed their whistles while Bryce was getting mugged, but overall it wasn’t a great game, and you assume he’ll be better going forward.
- Frontcourt looks strong - Going into a game against the strong Arizona frontcourt tomorrow, it was important to get the Bruin frontcourt going, and they dominated this game. Thomas Welsh notched another double-double, Leaf looked healthy, and Anigbogu and Goloman had serviceable minutes. If the Bruin frontcourt can turn in this type of performance tomorrow, you have to like the Bruins’ chance to win.
UCLA moves on to the semifinals tomorrow, in a matchup against the Arizona Wildcats. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 PM on ESPN.