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USC-UCLA: A Crosstown Preview

Paolo Uggetti |
January 14, 2015 | 2:51 p.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor

The Trojans welcome the Bruins to the Galen Center for what should be an interesting rivalry matchup (@LATimes/Twitter)
The Trojans welcome the Bruins to the Galen Center for what should be an interesting rivalry matchup (@LATimes/Twitter)

First, the obvious: The USC-UCLA basketball game clearly pales in comparison to they hype-fueled, storied gridiron matchup that occurs only once a year. When you think of this rivalry, basketball certainly does not ring the first bell. The diluted formality of two games in a season (one at Galen and one at Pauley) does the rivalry on the hardwood no favors, nor does the Trojans’ recent failure to produce any semblance of a competent basketball team. 

But times are a-changing, and this season, this matchup may be more evenly parlayed than in recent campaigns, thus making tonight a must-watch ordeal. 

The Bruins come into this game on a two-game winning streak, with victories against conference opposition in Cal and Stanford. Yet that small successful sample does little to represent the mostly disappointing season this UCLA team has had so far. 

After embarrassing themselves during a 5-game losing streak that included being on the receiving end of a 83-44 shellacking by the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, losses to Alabama and conference foes Utah and Colorado, the Bruins’ best win of the season may have been the recent close victory over Stanford, in double overtime no less. 

It’s safe to say the team’s season so far has not been representative of the expectations that preceded them prior to this season’s tip-off, especially given their perceived place among the hierarchy of the Pac-12. Being considered one of the Top-4, if not higher, teams in the conference seemed like a rather tame contingency to live up to, but reality has quickly set in, and the gold-and-blue clad squad has taken a mediocre 10-7 overall record and a 2-2 conference record and careened all the way down to eighth place in the conference. 

With the recent two key conference wins under their belt, what better way to continue this much-needed turnaround than with a win against the rival Trojans? Three wins in six days does not fix all for the Bruins, but a win tonight would go a long way toward pushing them further in the right direction of those now apparently hefty expectations. 

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While expectations have served to place a currently-disappointing cloud over the Bruins’ season, expectations at USC are constructed in a much more humbling manner. And with good reason, as the past few years have been nothing but underwhelming in the way this team has performed on the court. 

This season—the second under Florida Gulf Coast transplant Andy Enfield—has at least shown spots and sequences of a slightly brighter future to come. The Trojans have looked far more spry and though their youth precludes them very much, there is reason for optimism under a not-so-large viewfinder as opposed to the magnifying glass of basketball tradition over in Westwood. 

Perhaps a greater of sign of improvement has been this squad’s progression from the first game until now, as they have tempered their turnovers and through manufactured and efficient team play have produced a few quality wins. 

From the strong, winning visit to The Pit in New Mexico to the cross-country victory at Boston College to the all-important first conference win against Cal, the Trojans have certainly had their bright spots. Though confounding losses to Portland St. and Army produced a “not this again” sentiment over the basketball this university has been recently known for, they have showed a knack for playing scrappy play and though they cannot seem to make a three-pointer or a free-throw, this young squad has looked cautiously promising thus far. 

Sure, the Trojans are a an unexciting 9-7 overall and 1-3 in conference play, but nitpicking at the schedule you’ll find one more conference win at this time of the year than what last season produced at this same timeline. The 2013-14 USC team went a repulsive 2-16 in conference play with wins against only Cal and Washington St. So far, they have ousted the Golden Bears again and have taken Stanford to the wire, but tonight’s game looms large and not only because of the ascribed rivalry. 

A win tonight and the Trojans will have their second conference win much earlier than expected, but more importantly it would go quite a long way in proving that this team has substantially improved in-season and that this program is ever-so slightly on the upward swing of success. 

For the seemingly battered Bruins, they will attempt to continue the damage control with a victory they should obtain and must obtain not just for conference implications but for their NCAA tournament hopes. 

For the Trojans, they may have their best opportunity at supplanting the need of a rivalry win after the football team failed to do so, and though not much is expected of them this season, it could be a telling teaser of possible success to come on the horizon. 

Nevertheless, the names, whatever the sport, speak for themselves. In a year where both Los Angeles schools may not be producing the best basketball, there is always something to be played for when these two collide. 

Tonight should be no different. 

Reach Associate Sports Editor Paolo Ugetti here, or follow him on Twitter at @PaoloUggetti



 

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