UCLA men’s basketball dunks on USC to secure spot in Pac-12 championship game
Senior guard Jules Bernard shoots over a defender. Bernard scored 15 points in No. 2 seed UCLA men’s basketball’s victory over No. 3 seed USC on Friday night. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)
|No. 3 USC
|No. 2 UCLA
By Jon Christon
March 11, 2022 11:01 p.m.
This post was updated March 11 at 11:53 p.m.
LAS VEGAS — For the first time in eight years, the Bruins will be playing for the conference crown.
No. 2 seed UCLA men’s basketball (25-6, 15-5 Pac-12) secured its spot in the final game of the Pac-12 tournament with a 69-59 victory over No. 3 seed USC (26-7, 14-6) on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena. With the win, the blue and gold will move on to take on No. 1 seed Arizona on Saturday evening with the title on the line.
“It’s what we all work for, trying to get that trophy,” said junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr.
USC’s 59 points are the fewest it has scored in over a month, as UCLA held its crosstown rival to under 40% shooting from the field. The Bruins also forced nine turnovers six days after inducing 15 Trojan takeaways.
Coach Mick Cronin said the defensive performance was among his team’s best.
“Defensively, I thought that was as good as we’ve played in a while,” Cronin said. “Especially in the first half.”
UCLA’s defense only allowed 28 points in the opening frame, but it was the Tyger Campbell offensive show early on the Las Vegas Strip. The redshirt junior guard co-paced the Bruins with 11 points while his team jumped out to an eight-point halftime advantage.
Campbell got UCLA on the board with an early layup and followed it up with a triple minutes later to give him five quick points. The guard’s next shot wouldn’t come for the next seven minutes, until he drilled another shot from beyond the arc to extend the Bruin lead to five.
The advantage stretched to double digits on a second-chance 3 from Campbell with 3 1/2 minutes to go in the first half – a shot that put UCLA up 11 and forced USC coach Andy Enfield to burn a timeout.
Despite not attempting a shot in the game’s first five minutes, Jaquez matched Campbell’s 11 first-half points with five from the charity stripe. As a team, UCLA shot 10-of-13 on free throws compared to its opponent’s 5-of-10 mark in the first half and finished the game with 21 attempts.
“We got to the foul line – it’s the most we’ve been to the foul line in a long time, so (we were) attacking the basket pretty well,” Cronin said. “So I thought the key to the game was our first half.”
Jaquez got the scoring going for the Bruins in the final frame, as a turnaround jumper from the junior stretched the UCLA lead back to double digits in the opening minute. However, USC would quickly shrink its deficit to six two possessions later.
The Bruin lead was still six after a 3-pointer from Trojan guard Boogie Ellis following the under-eight media timeout, but UCLA finished the game outscoring its opponent 13-9 to secure the double-digit victory.
“We said at halftime that if they don’t get to 60, they’re not gonna be able to catch us,” Cronin said. “(I’m) happy with the way we defended, even down the stretch.”
Jaquez led the team in scoring for the fourth consecutive game, putting up 19 points and five rebounds. Senior guard Jules Bernard, after scoring 19 points Thursday, was like Robin to Jaquez’s role of Batman again, with the senior scoring 15 on Friday.
UCLA will now square off against No. 1 seed Arizona at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“We’re just worried about tomorrow,” Campbell said. “Come out, give it all we have.”