This afternoon, the UCLA Bruins welcome the Southern Cal Trojans to Pauley Pavilion. Today’s game is a very important one for the Bruins and it’s not just because they are playing their crosstown rivals.
Currently, the Bruins are fourth in the Pac-12 standings behind Arizona (9-1), Southern Cal (8-2) and Washington (6-3) while the Bruins are 6-4. As a result, UCLA really cannot afford additional losses if they want to stay in the race for the conference regular season title.
For their part, Southern Cal has been playing well since conference play began. Their only losses came against Washington and Stanford. In fact, in the month of January, the Trojans went 7-1. Their .875 winning percentage for January, which is their best January winning percentage since 1973.
Southern Cal is led by junior forward Chimezie Metu who is averaging 16.0 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, Metu isn’t exactly a classy player. Last year, he slapped one player and tripped another, but he went even lower earlier this year when he punched a player in the groin and got off with a slap on the wrist.
Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin is the Trojans’ third best scorer averaging 12.6 ppg while senior guard Elijah Stewart is also averaging in double figures with 11.0 ppg. Southern Cal’s other two expected starters are sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic and junior guard Shaqquan Aaron. Rakocevic is averaging 7.0 ppg and is third in rebounds per game with 5.0 per game while Aaron is only averaging 4.0 ppg.
The Trojans’ first guy off the bench will probably be Jonah Matthews who’s averaging 9.6 ppg.
It’s expected that junior forward Bennie Boatwright could miss today’s game. According to Ben Bolch of the LA Times, Boatwright has a blister on one of his feet that could prevent him from playing.
Of course, today’s game marks the first time Charles O’Bannon, Jr. visits Pauley Pavilion as a member of the Trojans. I trust that the Den will give him an appropriate welcome to Pauley.
The key to the game for the Bruins continues to be defense. If UCLA plays the kind of defense they are capable of playing, the Bruins should win. If they don’t, it could be a long day for Bruin fans.
One thing, though, is clear. Today’s game will set the tone for the rest of February. A win could spur the team next week against the Arizona schools while a loss could send this team into a tailspin. Can Steve Alford get the best out of his team this afternoon?
We hope so.