Westwood, CA – Round two for the battle of LA rivalry was filled with drama and intrigue under the bright lights of Pauley Pavilion. On Saturday night, the No. 17 UCLA Bruins (23-6, 15-5 Pac-12) avenged their loss against the No. 16 USC Trojans (25-6, 14-6 Pac-12) to a sold-out crowd with a 75-68 victory, and closed out the regular season honoring their seniors on senior night.
UCLA senior Jules Bernard shared what it meant to get this win.
“Obviously, we know the history of the rivalry. It’s not a secret, but the last five games, we were 0-5 against USC. So, this definitely meant a lot to end the regular season on a good note against a team that we, in the last few games, haven’t had some success against. It was definitely a meaningful win.”
With under five minutes to go the Bruins were up by 10, 70-60.
Before you knew it, the Trojans were on the heels of the Bruins.
USC forward Isaiah Mobley made a hard cut to the basket for an and-one to bring his team within two 70-68 with 1:22 minutes remaining.
At this point, it was anybody’s game.
UCLA went ahead 72-68 and could have extended their lead more but missed some clutch free throws down the stretch.
The Trojans had opportunities to make a run, but they just couldn’t kick start the engine.
With 30 seconds left, USC guard Reese Dixon-Waters shot a three from the top of the key, but it was off of the front of the rim.
Boogie Ellis also shot a three that was off the mark for the Trojans.
Despite the sloppy ending, the Bruins still managed to hold off the Trojans in the heat of the battle.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t like the way we finished the game,” said UCLA head coach Mick Cronin. “We got March coming up, I come here to try to get the 12th Championship, and we had some egregious errors down the stretch where we went for rebounds instead of getting back on defense. We don’t believe in giving and-1’s, that is a cardinal, cardinal, sin on our team, if you can’t foul him enough to stop the layup, you gotta let it go. I really have tried to train myself as I’ve gotten older to stay focused on coaching and what we are trying to accomplish to get better.”
On the bright side, the Bruins only committed one turnover all game.
“I think just sharing the ball, not trying to force anything,” said UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. on the Bruins only turnover. “Ball movement, I think, was really good. I think we ran our offense really well tonight. We were able to get open shots and move the ball with ease. I think [it was] just playing good offense.”
Jaquez Jr. was in his bag with 27 points, grabbing six boards, and dishing four assists. He has scored 57 points in the last two games and stated whether he feels like he’s in “March mode.”
“I just think I’ve been feeling a lot better. We’re in March, so I guess you can say that. Honestly, I’ve just been feeling really good. As far as my body, my ankles are doing a lot better right now. I’m excited. It’s time to turn it up to another gear.”
Bernard scored 19 points and was one of three senior players being honored. He commented on his future plans and the environment inside Pauley.
“It was amazing. The environment was amazing. It was great to walk out with my family, my loved ones. It always means a lot to have those close to me at the games. It was definitely a memorable night. As for your first question, I’m not sure. I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’m more focused on our games ahead. I know we have a lot of basketball ahead of us, so just trying to get rest, prepare for the games ahead, and be there for my team so we can win games.”
Bernard also stated whether he feels like his team is ready for the NCAA tournament.
“I think we are ready, but, obviously, we know the tough road. Being that we’ve been there before, and we know how hard it is to win in those environments. We’re definitely focused and locked in going into both the Pac-12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. We’re definitely all in-tune and ready for these tournaments.”
The 1972 UCLA championship basketball team was celebrated during halftime.
With this win, UCLA takes second in the Pac-12 regular season standings.
Both UCLA and USC have secured first-round byes in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament.