No. 8 Bruins prepare for rival Trojans (Jan 25, 2017)
Crosstown rivals USC and UCLA will clash for the first time this season in a Pac-12 Conference game when the eighth-ranked Bruins visit the Trojans on Wednesday night at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.
UCLA (19-2, 6-2 Pac-12) is coming off a 96-85 loss to Arizona, which vaulted from No. 14 to No. 7 in the national rankings after beating the Bruins on their home floor.
USC (17-4, 4-4) has struggled a bit since bounding into conference play with an unblemished record, but the Trojans were buoyed by an 82-79 victory over Arizona State on Sunday.
The Bruins are emphasizing defense this week after they had a hard time stopping Arizona. The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field and made 9 of 21 from 3-point range. They also amassed a 42-33 rebounding advantage and converted 19 of 21 free-throw attempts.
Point guard Lonzo Ball had 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds in another stellar performance for UCLA. The Bruins shot 45.1 percent and made 10 3-pointers, but it wasn't enough to mitigate their lapses at the defensive end.
"It's a wake-up call," Ball said. "The places we want to go, we have to play defense. This is a perfect example right here."
UCLA coach Steve Alford said the game reminded him of his team's only other loss this season, an 89-87 setback at Oregon.
"This was similar to Oregon in the fact that we scored in the 80s, but we just couldn't get stops in either half," Alford said. "We couldn't get into a flow to get into a rhythm defensively. Our defensive efficiency tonight was awful. We gave up 48 points in both halves, so they were very efficient and hard to guard today. This is a valuable lesson. I thought we were making strides and putting some things together defensively over the last couple of weeks since Oregon, but we regressed tonight against a very good basketball team."
Alford said the loss could benefit his team in the long run.
"They need this," Alford said. "I mean, you can be special, and come March you can be awfully special, but your defense has to grow. It's not one, two, three guys. It's playing defense with the same intensity and unselfishness that you play with offensively. It's where this team has to grow the most."
USC allowed Arizona State to shoot 50.9 percent from the field, but the Trojans shot 51.6 percent and made 14 3-pointers. Elijah Stewart scored 29 points and made seven 3-pointers for the Trojans.
USC coach Andy Enfield said it was an encouraging sign after the Trojans struggled to shoot the ball well in recent weeks.
"We can't shoot terribly every game," Enfield said. "Eventually, the law of averages evens out. It was nice to see the players step up and make shots. It was frustrating before missing wide-open shots. Tonight, they made those shots and that was the difference."