Demons Exorcised; UCLA Defeats Southern Cal, 75-68
Jaime Jaquez was brilliant in the victory.
RAPID REACTION TIME BECAUSE THAT GAME WAS EMOTIONALLY DRAINING.
UCLA has had a monkey on their back for the past few years. Despite how the Bruins have turned things around under Coach Mick Cronin, there’s been this odd fact that he still hadn’t beaten Southern Cal; going into this game, the Bruins were 0-5 against the Trojans under Cronin.
Well, you can finally cross that one off the board. UCLA came out focused from the jump, determined to end the losing streak, and that’s exactly what happened. Southern Cal led for a grand total of 66 seconds, and while they would get the lead as low as two with 1:22 remaining, the Bruins were not going to be denied as they roared for a 75-68 victory in front of a packed Pauley Pavilion.
Jaime Jaquez was a man possessed for most of this game. Jaquez had a team-high 27 points on 10-16 shooting, while also tying the team-high for rebounds (six) and assists (four). It was a clinic from the junior, who hit Southern Cal with a bevy of moves to either draw fouls or get easy baskets close to the rim. His stellar play also led to plenty of open looks for Jules Bernard, who had his best game in what feels like a month, scoring 19 points on 6-11 shooting. These two really buoyed the UCLA offense, which struggled for much of the game. Johnny Juzang, playing for the first time since reinjuring his ankle against Oregon last week, struggled in finding his shot, while Cody Riley spent most of the game missing bunny after bunny. Tyger Campbell, who tried to carry the Bruins single-handedly in the last meeting, was a quiet 3-8 from the field.
As has been the case in these last few games, however, it was the Bruin defense that carried the team. Whenever Myles Johnson and Jaylen Clark happened to be on the court at the same time, Southern Cal just could not do anything of note, and it allowed the Bruins to expand leads despite the offensive struggles. The key moment in the second half came with 12:17 remaining when Myles Johnson re-entered the game. He stayed in until the 7:06 mark; in that time, Southern Cal made only three baskets, which allowed UCLA to stretch their lead out from one point to 12. From there, it just became a case of the Bruins maintaining that lead until the final horn.
What also helped: clean basketball from UCLA. The Bruins only had one turnover all game. Southern Cal, meanwhile, had 15, which allowed the Bruins to put up a ridiculous 21-3 points off of turnovers advantage. With the Bruins only shooting 45.6% from the field on the game, it’s these points and creating empty possessions for the Trojans that meant a huge difference.
With the win, the Bruins set themselves up for a good run in the Pac-12 Tournament, where they secured the 2nd seed. They will face the winner of Washington State and UC Berkeley on Thursday, and avoid a Washington team that gave them fits just this past week. A potential rubber match with the Trojans looms on Friday, but the Bruins should be well-rested for that meeting.
Jaime Jaquez led the Bruins with 27 points. He tied Cody Riley for the team-lead in rebounds with six, and tied Tyger Campbell for the team-lead in assists with four. Isaiah Mobley led the Trojans with 20 points.
Player of the Game: Jaime Jaquez - Jaquez is dialed in right now, and if he hadn’t gotten injured and the Bruins hadn’t had the COVID pause, he would likely be in the conversation for National Player of the Year. As-is, Jaquez seems determined to carry the Bruins offensively while some of the others get back into form. His 27 points were huge, especially when it felt like he couldn’t miss for a good stretch of the second half.
Johnson + Clark = Defensive Victory - I will keep harping on this forever, but UCLA’s best lineups tend to feature both Myles Johnson and Jaylen Clark on the floor together. Those two combined to get the Bruins ahead in the first half, and then Myles stepped up to key a UCLA run in the second with his superior defense, seemingly shutting down everything Southern Cal wanted to do on the interior. It remains baffling that Cronin does not go to these two more often, especially when guys like Cody Riley continue to look out of sorts.
Shutting Down Peterson - Southern Cal’s Drew Peterson played the game of his life in the last outing, to the point that the Bruins keyed in on him even with Isaiah Mobley returning. Peterson was not able to have the same impact, only putting in 13 points on 4-9 shooting, which is a testament to the defensive adjustments UCLA made.
Next up: the Pac-12 Tournament. UCLA will know their first opponent by the end of Wednesday.