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Southern Cal Defeats UCLA, 54-52, on the Backs of Two Players

UCLA’s team defense was good. Onyeka Okongwu with an assist from Jonah Matthews was better.

Cody Riley played clutch today. It just wasn’t enough to help UCLA win.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

UCLA’s seven-game winning streak ended in dramatic fashion but, man, these Bruins never gave up. On a day that UCLA shot just 31%, it took a buzzer beater on Senior Day for Southern Cal to defeat UCLA.

The first minutes had the UCLA Bruins playing some of their best defense. Southern Cal missed their first two shots and turned it over twice before finally hitting a three. On offense, though, Tyger Campbell continued his shooting struggles. So, it was 5-4 at the Under 16 timeout.

At the Under 12 timeout, which did not happen until 10:30, UCLA was down 13-12. The Bruins were 2 for 9 from three and a respectable 3 for 7 inside. But all those missed threes let Southern Cal lead 13-12 despite the Trojans shooting only 33%.

The Under 8 timeout had Onyeka Okongwu finally getting some touches and it looked like Southern Cal was going on a run but Jules Bernard had a drive “and one.” So, it was 17-15, Southern Cal.

While UCLA’s defense remained mostly excellent, the offense really struggled. After a bucket by Riley, the Bruins did not score for over five minutes. At the Under 4 with only 2:30 left, Southern Cal led 22-19.

At half, it was 24-22, Trojans. It was an easy game to describe in a word: Defense.

The Bruins held the Southern Cal Trojans to 31% shooting but they only shot 28% in the first half. FWIW, except for a couple Southern Cal dunks, UCLA’s defense was perfect. UCLA had some decent open looks they missed from three. Southern Cal’s defense inside was very strong.

Coach Cronin definitely is playing chess when others in playing checkers. He started out with a change of David Singleton as point. Singleton responded with a three and set up Jaylen Hill for two free throws on a foul on a dunk attempt. Five points in four minutes may not seem like much, but it gave UCLA a 27-26 lead at the Under 16.

At the Under 12, UCLA had shut down the Southern Cal team, but not Okongwu. He was the best player in the game. He was doing it all and forced Cronin to call a timeout. With 13 minutes left in the game, he was 5 for 9 while the rest of Trojans were 6 for 27. His play even opened up Jonah Matthews to hit some threes.

By the Under 8 timeout, the game changed. All of a sudden, Southern Cal’s offense was clicking. Both teams scored threes and more. Unfortunately, the Trojans scored on a break and Jake Kyman missed a 2-on-1 break. Southern Cal lead 40-36.

By the Under 4, Southern Cal was either scoring or turning it over. Okongwu was everywhere on offense and, when he did not score, he set them up.

But this is classless Southern Cal. So, Nick Rakocevic not only made a cheap foul on an inbounds play, he shoved Jaime Jaquez Jr. in the neck area. A flagrant one resulted. UCLA was 11 for 11 on free throws, but the Bruins were still down, 40-36.

I can’t do justice describing the last four minutes and will let the reporters do it tomorrow. I will say this: UCLA never gave up. Southern Cal missed free throws but Chris Smith fouled out and Jake Kyman slipped at a key moment. Cody Riley did it all to get UCLA the win with a basket and two made free throws with nine seconds left with a timeout sandwiched between them to try to ice him. However, Jonah Matthews drove and hit the game-winner with one second left.

It was a heartbreaking loss but UCLA can keep their heads up.

Three Takeaways

  1. Player of the game: Cody Riley. Riley was clutch. He was 4 for 9 from the field against Okongwu on defense and clutch on free throws. He was 4 for 5 free throws and he rebounded his only miss.
  2. Today, the better player beat the better team. UCLA’s defense held everyone not named Okongwu to 13 for 39 from the field. Shoot, Matthews was 5 for 13, but Matthews got his chances from Okongwu. Okangwu was clearly a man playing with boys at times and will be a lottery pick. He was the difference in the game with an assist from Matthews.
  3. UCLA did everything right except score. Shoot, they were 14 of 15 from the free throw line. Southern Cal has a good defense, but the Bruins could not find enough of a hot hand, although Riley almost did it in the clutch. That said, I am not sure when was the last time a team shot 31% and won. Before the season, we knew offense would be an issue and it was an issue today. BUT they still almost won!

UCLA is going to finish second in the Pac-12 for the regular season. That’s a great result and exceeds expectations. They should be in the dance, but need a win or two in the Pac-12 Tournament now. With this team, I know they will give it their best shot.

Go Bruins!