The Battle for Los Angeles has not been the same over these last few years. While USC and UCLA were once considered basketball heavyweights, both programs have been mired in mediocrity this season. Both teams look set to miss out on the NCAA Tournament barring a miraculous run in the PAC 12 Conference Tournament, and the best that either school can hope for is an invitation to the NIT. Still, despite the stature of both teams, this is one of the top rivalries in the sport, and both schools will be motivated to get the W here.
UCLA should have known that this season would be a disaster. The Bruins’ lost two of their top freshmen for the season before either had a chance to play a minute of action, and that left them bereft of playmakers. Point guard Tyger Campbell tore his ACL in October, while Shareef O’Neal had to undergo heart surgery in September, and UCLA has been in a downward spiral since that point. Prince Ali might miss tonight’s game too due to a foot injury.
Charles O’Bannon Jr. only played one game before being lost for the season for the side of USC, and Jordan Usher decided to transfer out in early January. Usher had been averaging 24 minutes, but he wasn’t happy with his role and decided to leave LA.
There has been no movement on the side or total in this game. UCLA opened as a three-point favorite in a nominal home game, and the over/under is 154.
What’s at Stake?
USC and UCLA are both 8-7 in PAC-12 play, so the winner here will guarantee themselves at least a .500 finish in conference play. Furthermore, the winner will ensure that they finish the regular season at .500, and with that comes a berth in a postseason tournament. Both schools have big enough brands to be assured of a spot in the NIT, CBI, or CIT if they want it, although a bid to the latter two tournaments is far less prestigious.
City bragging rights are on the line too. Los Angeles gets labeled as a big city that doesn’t care about sports, but USC and UCLA have passionate fanbases. USC won the first meeting between these two teams 80-67 back on January 19, and UCLA wants to even it up.
This is the Trojans’ best chance to pick up one more win. USC lost its last home game of the season over the weekend, and it closes out with three straight on the road. Only 12 miles separate USC from UCLA, but the other two road games are against Utah and Colorado, and those are a long way from home.
Interim coach Murray Bartow is looking to get as many wins as possible before someone else comes in to take over in Westwood. The Bruins nipped both Oregon schools last week, but they needed overtime to beat a Cal team that is probably the worst power conference team in recent memory.
These two teams are incredibly similar in terms of numbers. They are both 8-7 in conference and 15-13 overall, and they are ranked very close to one another in terms of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced ratings. UCLA’s offense is three spots ahead of USC’s, but the Trojans’ defense is 18 spots ahead of the Bruins.
Jaylen Hands has been pretty disappointing during his time at UCLA. He was one of the most highly touted point guards in the country two years ago, and Steve Alford believed he could step in and replace Lonzo Ball. Hands has never developed a jumper, but at least he is starting to play the point a little better, and his assist numbers have gone way up. He could have his sixth game with 10 or more assists here.
The Trojans can hit from three better than most teams in the country. USC is sinking 38.2 percent of its triples as a team, and four of its five leading scorers are hitting 38.7 percent or better from range. That could come in handy tonight.
I think the over is the play in this one. With nothing too major at stake, I see both coaches turning it a little loose. There will be a lot of potential recruits in attendance, so both teams will keep playing at tempo and create a lot of chances that push the game over.