It won’t erase the bitter memories of a 50-0 football drubbing, but for UCLA, it’s a start.
The Bruins took it to the reeling Trojans in their own expensive house from start to finish, pounding their crosstown rivals 66-47 in a game that USC were visible outclassed.
Losers of six in a row and still the only Pac-12 team without a conference win, the Trojans couldn’t muster much offensively after an optimistic start. Tied 9-9 halfway through the first half, UCLA blew the doors off the Galen Center with an efficient 15-1 run which all but settled the result.
USC has been prone to lapse into long scoring droughts this season, so once the Bruins found themselves up 37-19 at the half, there was little chance that the Trojans would come back. Predictably, Maurice Jones led all USC scorers with 13, and got little help all night.
It was a solid win for UCLA, but a win they should have gotten nonetheless. The real tests will come later this week when they travel north to visit Oregon and Oregon State, so consider the SC match a warm-up.
As the Bruins embark to Oregon, consider these five takeaways from the USC victory moving forward.
One thing that stood out to me, especially in the first half, is that UCLA shot the ball well all over the court, be it from mid-range, up close or from a distance. As a team, the Bruins shot 51 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from three, numbers that actually should be higher if Tyler Lamb had shot anywhere near his average (more on that later).
People talk about how USC struggles to score, but relatively speaking, the Bruins haven’t been that much better. UCLA has shot over 51 percent only four other times this season, and three of those performances came against mid-major or Division II opposition.
With that in mind, to see UCLA make open jump shots, look inside before taking outside shots and generally convert good looks into points shouldn’t be notable, yet it was. Shot after shot fell for the Bruins, and not just from the field. UCLA were 11-of-12 from the line compared to SC’s appalling 9-of-21.
UCLA shot the ball with confidence and intelligence, often correctly sinking an easy 15-footer instead of forcing an contested three. If this kind of shooting holds, UCLA should be able to stay with Oregon and other potent Pac-12 offenses like them in the future.
I’ve written in the past on how perhaps Travis Wear’s minutes should be reduced to make more room for Joshua Smith, but his play against USC has me eating my words.
T-Wear (as Gus Johnson resorted to calling him all night) finished with an impressive 19 points and eight rebounds, leading all scorers in 30 minutes on the floor. While Smith never got into a rhythm—mostly due to foul trouble and triple-teams—Travis found his early, cashing in on many an easy bucket in close against a paper-thin USC front line.
Wear’s success wasn’t just limited to his offense, as the sophomore impressed on the defensive end as well. Granted, he wasn’t defending the cream of the Pac-12’s big man crop, but his switches were good, and he only committed one foul. Wear was simply too quick for Dewayne Dedmon or James Blasczyk to get past and too strong to force out of good rebounding position.
If Travis continues to play this way, Ben Howland will have little incentive to move Smith into a starting role or even go with a theorized three-big starting lineup. The team isn’t quite broken down low, so why would Howland attempt to fix it?
Going forward, if Travis and brother David continue to play at such a high level on both end of the court, UCLA could be in the hunt for a Pac-12 title. Much will be decided in Oregon, where a sweep of the Ducks and Beavers could change the conference landscape positively for UCLA.
30 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 5 PF, 3 TO
To look at Tyler Lamb’s stats alone and judge that he had a poor game would only be partially correct.
Lamb had probably the most forgettable offensive game of his entire career, missing all four of his shots before fouling out with under two minutes to go. He missed his only three off the heel and didn’t look comfortable with his shot, maybe a sign that the hip is bothering him again.
However, despite his regrettable five fouls, Lamb played a fairly decent defensive game. The Bruins knew the key to shutting down USC offensively was to take away Maurice Jones’ options and force him alone to beat them. UCLA accomplished that, with no other Trojan breaking into double figures besides Jones.
Lamb’s defense won’t show up in his stats, but the sophomore kept whoever he was guarding close and didn’t give away much. That he committed five fouls while doing so will probably earn the ire of a perfectionist like Ben Howland, but the head coach has to appreciate Lamb’s effort in the end.
We’ve seen better from Lamb this year, including a 26-point explosion against California, so expect Lamb to be back. UCLA won’t get to play USC every game, so chances are, the Bruins will need Lamb’s scoring at some point along the conference road.
Few things excite Bruin fans more than emphatic block, and they were treated to a trio of athletic swats from Anthony Stover. While his overall improvement isn’t key to the Bruins' fortunes going forward, his effectiveness in the minutes he’s given is, and that’s exactly what we saw against USC.
Perhaps best known for pregame dance skills and interview prowess, Stover is usually Ben Howland’s second-choice big man off the bench behind Joshua Smith. When in the game, Stover isn’t expected to score; just be quick on defense, contest shots and not foul. He did excelled in all three categories against the Trojans, sending three shots back while even securing two points off a tip-in.
Without Reeves Nelson, UCLA is thinner than Howland would like up front, with little talent behind the Wears and Smith. Brendan Lane is a good squad player, but nothing more. It falls to Stover to shoulder the front-court responsibility when Smith gets into foul trouble and Travis Wear needs a blow. Oftentimes, UCLA will need to protect a lead when Stover is in the game, so his minutes gain even more import.
Stover certainly stood out against USC, and we should see more from one of the Bruins’ four 6’10’’ sophomores in the future.
On a more negative note, Jerime Anderson still have yet to influence a conference game. He should be credited for the pair of nice mid-range shots he drained, his four assists, five rebounds and decent defense, but little else.
From Norman Powell, an athletic freshman still adapting to the college game, those numbers would be acceptable. However, we expect more from a battle-tested, fourth-year senior like Anderson, who has so thoroughly failed at scoring consistently this season that Ben Howland has elected to play him at point instead of the two.
It’s a small move, but considering how poorly Anderson has historically been at the UCLA point, coupled with the fact that Lazeric Jones has never played off the ball in his life, you would think this wasn’t Howland’s ideal scenario.
Truth be told, Anderson has had his best season this year as a point guard, which is just to say that his first three years were terrible. Anderson displayed little creativity, assisted too little and turned the ball over too much. It got so bad that Howland was forced to pluck Jones from junior college to stop the bleeding up top, something that UCLA almost never does.
Yet despite all previous evidence to the contrary, it seems Anderson will see more and more time at the point, allowing Zeke to focus more on scoring. It’s a necessary move by Howland, but might backfire if Anderson lapses into his woeful ways.
Cross your fingers, Bruin fans.