From the outset, Wednesday’s crosstown showdown at the Sports Arena was a rivalry game in name only as UCLA rolled to a 64-54 win.
Fears that USC fans would outnumber UCLA fans in a “home game” for the Bruins less than a mile from USC’s campus were quelled when mere specks of cardinal and gold peppered the Trojans’ former downtown home.
USC looked defeated from the moment the opening huddle broke. The Trojans’ patchwork starting five trotting onto the floor to add another “L” to the loss column that inched them one loss closer to perhaps the worst season in program history.
The Bruins quickly opened up a double-digit advantage and until late in the first half, it appeared the Trojans wouldn’t score in double digits before the break.
The game lacked the fire and “hatred” that UCLA senior guard Lazeric Jones spoke so highly of in last year’s games. If not for a flagrant foul called on sophomore center Joshua Smith in the first half, it was hard to tell these teams had a less-than-friendly history.
Senior guard Jerime Anderson did his best to add some flare to the game when he burned through a porous Trojan defense as the first half’s clock wound down and hit a fall away jump shot as time expired to keep the Bruins’ lead at 15.
Anderson acknowledged the UCLA student section, which was at capacity for one of the few times this season. Anderson said he was never concerned that Trojan fans would outnumber Bruin fans.
“I thought a lot of our home crowd would support us and I was happy to get the win for them and our students,” he said.
The second half was slightly different as the Bruins let the Trojans hang around, but no one in the building thought they would lose the lead except UCLA coach Ben Howland. He had four of UCLA’s five starters in the game midway through the second stanza despite holding a 23-point advantage and only played seven players all game.
“I was worried sick to my gut about this game playing in their backyard,” Howland said.
UCLA’s five starters each played over 30 minutes and the Bruins admitted fatigue may have been a factor in letting the Trojans hang around.
“That’s probably the most minutes I’ve played all season so I was a little gassed a couple times,” redshirt sophomore forward Travis Wear said.
Perhaps Howland didn’t sub in the second team to match Trojan coach Kevin O’Neill, who is coaching with a roster of just six scholarship players.
If Howland was worried sick, O’Neill stopped trying. USC was called for a five-second violation that had O’Neill looking ready to launch into one of his signature tirades but instead he turned around and sauntered back to the bench.
As was the case in UCLA’s 66-47 win at the Galen Center last month, the Bruins’ size was too much for the undermanned Trojans (6-21, 1-13 Pac-12) to overcome. The Bruins (15-11, 8-6) owned the glass, outrebounding the Trojans by 21 and outscoring the opposition 36-28 in the paint.
Redshirt sophomore twin forwards David and Travis Wear each had double-doubles to lead the Bruins to a sweep of USC for the first time since 2007.
“It feels good when we both perform well,” Travis Wear said.