Sunday, March 4, 2018

USC Falls to UCLA in Regular Season Finale 83-72

LOS ANGELES -- Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes combined for 56 points to lead the way for the UCLA Bruins in an 83-72 win over cross-town rival USC Trojans, Saturday night at the Galen Center.

The Bruins used an 18-3 run, midway through the second half, to come from behind and seize control of the game. Holiday scored nine points out of the first 11 during that crucial run. UCLA never looked back after that.

"Tough game for us this evening, UCLA played extremely well offensively," said USC head coach Andy Enfield. "Give them credit. They made shot after shot during that run when they took the lead. We had trouble stopping them."

This was the final regular season home game for the Trojans and it was also Senior Night, as the four-year players for USC were celebrated in a ceremony prior to the game. One of those seniors, Pac-12 assists leader and Bob Cousy Award Finalist Jordan McLaughlin, went in his bag early in the game and set the tone by scoring seven of USC's first 11 points. The Trojans just couldn't hold on.

"We got outplayed for 10 minutes... and that's it," said Enfield.

The Bruins, who badly needed this win to upgrade their resume for an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament, had intentions of making sure the only Trojan celebrations took place before the game, especially the conference leading scorer -- Holiday.

"We're the point guards of our teams, leading our teams," said McLaughlin, who had a team-high 19 points and four assists. "Tonight we did a good job of that... and he [Holiday] won the battle.

"He was being aggressive, used the pick and roll to try and get in the paint, knocking down shots. He hit some tough ones. He was just being aggressive."

The Trojans led most of the way and held a 43-40 lead at halftime. USC featured a balanced scoring attack in the first half, with all eight players who entered the game scratching the score sheet. Chimezie Metu finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

UCLA's deficit at the half could have been much larger if Bruin freshman forward Wilkes didn't score 15 of his career high 22 points in the first half. Wilkes shot six of eight while draining three threes in the process. Holiday scored 14 in the first half and 20 in the second.

Discussion after the game quickly turned to the Pac-12 tournament, leading into selection Sunday for the NCAA tournament. Even with the loss, USC finished second in the conference. In years past, this would be good enough for a ticket to the dance but Arizona is the only ranked team in the conference.

USC senior guard Elijah Stewart had the sentiment that it doesn't matter occurred in the regular season because each of the conference's teams are vulnerable in tournament play. Coach Enfield wants his team to focus on one game at a time because nobody knows what the criteria is for making the tournament.

"We have a big week ahead of us," said Enfield. "We have some very good wins... Sometimes common sense has to prevail."

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