UCLA (29-3) was able take advantage two runs at the beginning of both halves to hold on and upend USC (23-9), 76-74, to move on to the semi-final round where they will meet Arizona.
The Bruins started off fast taking an 8-0 lead in the early moments. UCLA had a 14 point lead, 32-18, with 5:04 left in the first. It looked like the game could be a repeat of UCLA’s performance against USC last month in Pauley, when the Bruins took care of the Trojans quite handily, but that was not to be.
USC ramped up their defense, forced the Bruins into turnovers and closed the half with a 17-5 run, turning a possible rout, into a possible nail biter. The Bruins led the Trojans 38-35 at the break.
The Trojans scored the first two point of the second stanza, then the Bruins scored the next 12 points to make the score 50-37 with 15:38 left in the game. Once again, the Bruins were flirting with a blowout.
USC kept battling and even were one turnover from tying the game with eight-seconds to go when Bennie Boatwright drained a three to make the score 76-74, but Bryce Alford made a heady play by hitting Isaac Hamilton long to beat the press before the Trojans had the opportunity to foul him. Hamilton ran out the clock from there and the Bruins move on to play another day.
“Really proud of our guys,” UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. “Thought they did a nice job. Didn’t have one of our better shooting nights, probably a game we don't win back in January. We didn't have too many tough shooting nights, and tonight was one of those, and we were able to get enough stops, had held them to 38 percent shooting, so I thought we did some good things with getting some stops.”
“We out rebounded them. 13 turnovers, really high in the first half, we couldn't get to the free-throw line in the first half. And we turned the ball over 10 times in the first half.”
“Second half we settled down and didn't turn the ball over, we just didn’t make the shots we normally make, and we kind of got out of flow that way. But our guys did a really good job of making the plays they had to make, especially defensively.”
The Bruins shot below their season average of 52.2 percent, shooting 41.3 from the field. UCLA still had four players score in double figures, led by senior guard, Isaac Hamilton’s game high 22 points.
Freshman forward, TJ Leaf returned to action scoring 14 points, adding six rebounds, and five rebounds. Lonzo Ball scored 12 points and had a team high seven assists. Thomas Welsh tallied a double-double, scoring 11 points to go with his 11 rebounds and blocked two shots.
Bryce Alford made into the Bruin record books breaking Jason Kapono’s 317 made threes. Alford now has 319 threes in his ledger and counting.
UCLA’s head coach talks about the semi-final game against rival Arizona.
“Well, it's a tremendous match-up,” Alford said. “I think they're two outstanding teams. If you look at it across the board, I think it's two top 5 teams going at it in the semifinal game of a conference tournament.”
“They've had a very, very good year and we've had a very good year. They've got great players, we've got great players, so it's a tremendous match-up.”
“We were both able to win on each other's court, which is a little unusual. Now we face on a mutual court. So, obviously it's going to be a very difficult game, and we have an awful lot of respect for them. We know we're going to have to be better tomorrow night than what we were tonight.”
Tipoff against Arizona is scheduled for Friday Night at approximately 8:30PM PST. The contest will be televised nationally by ESPN. UCLA fans can listen to the game in the Los Angeles area by tuning to AM 1150.