USC Basketball: Bruins Put Trojans Out Of Their Misery
Fifth-seeded UCLA outlasted the Trojans, 55-40, before a Staples Center crowd of 5,973 on Wednesday in a Pacific-12 Tournament first-round affair where neither team could muster any consistent offensive rhythm.
“It was a tough game for us,” said UCLA forward David Wear, who had eight points and 10 rebounds. “It was an up-and-down game with no real flow to it, but going forward, I’m glad we got this one out of the way.”
Head coach Ben Howland’s Bruins (19-13) registered just 34 percent shooting from the field and the 12-seed Trojans (6-26) managed only a 29 percent clip. The teams combined to fire 6-for-30 from three-point range, with USC making just two shots from long distance.
While the win earned UCLA a date with fourth-seeded Arizona (21-10) in a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday at 2:30 p.m., for the Trojans, the setback ended a campaign marred by injuries to key players Jio Fontan, Dewayne Dedmon and Aaron Fuller, among others.
“All of our players, who were left standing at the end of the year, did a great job of playing as hard as they could at all times and I appreciate their efforts,” USC head coach Kevin O’Neill said.
The Trojans held their largest lead at eight points with a 21-13 advantage near the four-minute mark of the first half. That was when UCLA blitzed the Pac-12’s last-place squad with a 26-4 run over the two halves and led by as much as 17 in the contest.
“We didn’t take advantage of our inside scoring chances until the second half,” Howland said. “Normally, you don’t win games by 15, shooting 33 percent from the field.”
But even considering the undermanned Trojans’ lackluster record, Howland said he expected a tough game from the Bruins’ crosstown rival.
“They’re playing with a lot of pride after everything they’ve been through so you’ve got to give them some credit,” Howland said.
The Trojans’ rebounding woes — they were 343rd out of 344 Division 1 teams in that category entering Wednesday’s game — continued in the season finale, as they lost that battle by a 42-33 margin. Eleven UCLA offensive rebounds led to a 16-6 Bruin edge in second-chance points. Lazeric Jones poured in 15 points to lead all UCLA scorers and Travis Wear contributed 12.
USC freshman Byron Wesley, who paced all Trojans with 13 points, said the team is already looking forward to next season after getting swept by the Bruins in 2012.
“We lost to our rival UCLA three times, and that just can’t happen,” Wesley said. “That itself is motivation.”
Wesley will have several underclassmen rejoin him next season during that march toward redemption, as Eric Strangis will be the lone senior departure. Sophomore Garrett Jackson chipped in 11 points and classmate Maurice Jones added seven points in the losing cause.
“Today’s game really hurt. I’m going to definitely reflect on my weaknesses and strengths, and come back a better player,” Wesley added.
The Bruins took a 22-21 lead into the intermission after a first half in which the Trojans held them to 23 percent shooting from the field. But USC converted only 27.6 percent of its own shot attempts and, according to O’Neill, those numbers pretty much summed up the story of the Trojans’ season.
“I always tell players ‘every season’s a journey,’” O’Neill said. “Sometimes, the journey is great. Sometimes it’s bad. This was a bad journey for us in a lot of ways.
“But a lot of positives are going to come out of this because guys developed as players that wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play that kind of minutes. I think we’ll appreciate winning a whole lot more going forward.”