March 9th, 2017
The Bruins came into the Pac-12 tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning 9 straight games. However, they looked nothing like that team, despite barely getting by the Trojans 76-74 in their quarterfinal matchup.
UCLA shot just 41% from the floor, and lacked the consistent energy on the defensive end that they had shown in the last month. Isaac Hamilton scored 22 points to lead the way for the Bruins, who stepped up when Lonzo Ball got into foul trouble.
Ball had 12 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds, but TJ Leaf helped do some damage in the paint in his return. Leaf had 14 points and 5 rebounds.
UCLA will now play Arizona on Friday night in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal. “We know we’re going to have to be better [Friday] night than we were tonight,” said UCLA Coach Steve Alford. The Bruins can expect the Wildcats to have quite a few fans in attendance based on Friday’s turnout.
The Trojans only shot 38% from the field, and Chimezie Metu was held to just 8 points, although he did have 14 rebounds. Bennie Boatwright scored 11 points, but was only 3 for 11 from the field.
“Even in a game where we were a little bit off, you look at the numbers and it was still pretty convincing that way,” Alford said. “It was only a two-point win, but it was tied for 20 seconds and we led the rest, so I’m really proud of our guys. We’ve had very, very few nights where we haven’t shot it well or scored in the 80s-plus and this was one of those nights and yet we find a way to get a win.”
The Bruins tried to pull away with a 12-0 run in the 2nd half, but the Trojans slowly fought back. They even got within 71-69 with 4:23 left.
In the end, USC had their chances but failed to capitalize. Boatwright missed a three-pointer that could have tied it with 37 seconds left. Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart later missed layups that could have made it a one-point game.
Despite the loss, USC should still be in good shape for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament next week. “You don’t get 24 wins if you’re not a good team,” USC Coach Andy Enfield said. “And I’m going to remind you, Bennie Boatwright was out 18 games. If we were on the East Coast, that’s all we’d be talking about. But because we’re on the West Coast, no one even mentions that.”