UCLA men’s basketball to host USC for Saturday’s crosstown rivalry matchup
No. 17 UCLA men’s basketball junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. enters the paint against No. 16 USC on Feb. 12. Jaquez is coming off a career-high 30-point game Monday. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)
No. 16 USC
Saturday, 7 p.m.
By Jon Christon
March 4, 2022 1:56 p.m.
The Bruins have dealt with injuries to almost every member of their active roster, a nearly month-long COVID-19 pause and a cracked airplane windshield so far in the 2021-2022 regular season.
But after four months of play, the turbulent campaign is finally set to come to an end.
“It’s been a pretty crazy season,” said junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. “But we’re here now, we’re happy and we’re excited that we get to play.”
Jaquez and No. 17 UCLA men’s basketball (22-6, 14-5 Pac-12) will draw the regular season to a close with a matchup against crosstown rival No. 16 USC (25-5, 14-5) on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins and Trojans are currently tied for second place in the Pac-12, and a win for either team would secure runner-up status to No. 2 Arizona.
Although it has dealt with injuries the entire campaign, UCLA could have its entire roster in uniform Saturday for one of the first times all season.
Junior guard Johnny Juzang has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but has a 50-50 chance to return against USC, according to coach Mick Cronin. Aside from Juzang, every active Bruin played in the most recent contest with each set to suit up Saturday.
“It’s been rough not having everybody, but people are getting back healthy at a good time,” said redshirt junior guard Tyger Campbell. “Hopefully everybody can be there for the (Pac-12) tournament.”
USC currently has the edge for the second spot over UCLA thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker following the Trojans’ Feb. 12 victory.
Despite Campbell scoring a career-high 27 points, USC bested the blue and gold 67-64 in the Bruins’ worst shooting contest of the season. UCLA connected on 29.7% of its shots – the only time it has been held to below 30% under Cronin’s leadership.
“That game was in the past – USC is going to make some adjustments to make it so I don’t score as easy,” Campbell said. “I just got to figure out my spots this game and pick them well and just take good shots and listen to what Coach has to say.”
Since that loss to the Trojans, the Bruins have won five of their last six games while boasting a 3-0 mark in Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA beat Washington in its most recent matchup, a game in which Jaquez notched a career high with 30 points on the road. While he was held to five points last time out versus USC and put up eight total points in the ensuing two games, Jaquez has since tallied double-figures in each of his last four contests.
Jaquez – who has shot north of 50% over that span – said he’s made a concerted effort to get to the rim since facing USC.
“I played at the low block when I was a kid, so I learned building from the ground up – being a guard, growing in the post,” Jaquez said. “It’s kind of fun to get back down there.”
USC enters Saturday’s matchup as winners of six of its last seven games, but is coming off its lone loss in that stretch. The Trojans fell 91-71 to the Wildcats on Tuesday, marking their worst defeat of the season.
However, the Bruins have dropped five straight to Saturday’s visiting team, with Cronin still searching for his first victory over the crosstown rivals since his arrival in 2019.
“We want to win extremely bad,” Jaquez said. “We know that we’ve lost to them the previous five times, and that’s something that sticks in the back of our head.”
Following Saturday’s matchup, UCLA will next play Thursday night in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, securing a first-round bye regardless if it finishes as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
But before the regular season officially concludes, Jaquez said the Bruins are still reflecting on an up-and-down campaign.
“It’s been a fun year,” Jaquez said.
Saturday will also mark Senior Night for UCLA, which touts five seniors on its roster.
However, every player on the Bruins has the opportunity to return because of an extra year of eligibility granted to all student-athletes a year ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cronin said three players will participate in Senior Night festivities – with redshirt senior forward Cody Riley and senior guards Jules Bernard and David Singleton all walking – but added that participating in the event is not indicative of their final game in Westwood.
“These guys are obviously a big part of restoring UCLA to an elite program,” Cronin said. “I’m sure it will be emotional for them, a big night and I hope they enjoy it.”
Among the other seniors on the roster, redshirt senior center Myles Johnson already participated in a senior night with Rutgers a year ago, but still could opt to return to Westwood next season.
“Nights like that are what make college basketball special,” Cronin said.