February 4, 2016 by Max Meyer
By Max Meyer
In front of one of the biggest crowds in Galen Center history, USC finished off the regular-season sweep of UCLA Thursday night with a dominating 80-61 win.
Julian Jacobs scored the first basket of the game just five seconds in, and the Trojans stayed ahead of the Bruins from that point on. USC scored the first nine points of the game, setting the home fans into a frenzy and setting the tone for the remainder of the contest.
After Jordan McLaughlin’s three at the buzzer to end the game, it capped off USC’s first sweep over UCLA since the 2009-10 season.
“The crosstown rivalry, it speaks for itself,” McLaughlin said. “It’s huge that we won both games, got the sweep. They beat us last year. It’s good to keep in the back of our minds, but we have to move on going forward.”
While six different Trojans scored at least nine points, the other side of the ball is what ultimately propelled the team to another big win.
One Thing I Liked: USC’s Defense
UCLA scored 61 points on the night, 10 points fewer than its previous season-low. The Bruins shot 34.8 percent from the field in the game, including a paltry 29.7 percent in the first half.
Despite allowing a whopping 17 offensive rebounds, USC made it difficult for UCLA to cash in on those extra chances, as the Bruins only put up 13 second-chance points.
“We thought we’d win the game on the defensive end,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “The second half turned into a very defensive struggle. We weren’t moving the ball. So we had to pick it up on the defensive end. UCLA’s a very good basketball team, they’re going to go on runs. We just had to try and withstand it, and try and play our game.”
The Bruins actually attempted more threes (26) than the Trojans (25), but didn’t make many perimeter shots. UCLA only made seven threes, and never really developed an inside game to help out the outside struggles.
Two players that have killed USC in the past, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, combined to shoot 6 of 17 from three, and missed all eight of their combined shots from inside the arc.
“Well we have pretty good guards too,” Enfield said. “They took the challenge to try and defend, and make it tough. Hamilton and Alford are as good of scorers we’ve played against all season. Our goal was to try and make it challenging for them cause we know how good they are.”
“It was a huge emphasis,” McLaughlin added. “Bryce Alford, he can get going at any point of the game, as well as Hamilton and (Aaron) Holiday. Coach really put the challenge on all of us to guard our yard. That’s what Coach Bland’s motto is.”
USC’s high-flying offense is what grabs the headlines, but it’s the defense that is most important if the Trojans want to make a major run in March.
Another Thing I Liked: Elijah Stewart
When Elijah Stewart plays well, USC is a completely different team. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Trojans won by 19 with Stewart dropping 16 points.
He didn’t lead the team in scoring tonight (Jacobs had 17), however, a hot streak by the sophomore late in the first half was a major key. With less than four minutes left until the half, UCLA crept back within single digits.
Then, the Elijah Stewart show began.
Stewart drilled a three to give the Trojans a 12-point lead. He then finished an alley-oop slam off a McLaughlin feed in transition. Another jumper and layup by Stewart boosted the lead to 13, as the Trojans ended up leading by 11 at the half.
“Elijah Stewart has improved,” Enfield said. “If you saw him as a freshman last year, he’s come so far.”
He wasn’t done hitting big shots either.
UCLA cut USC’s lead to six with a little more than four minutes remaining. Stewart hit another three off a pretty dish from McLaughlin, and the Trojans were able to breathe comfortably for the remainder of the game.
Stewart has carried the team in several games this year. He has been inconsistent at parts this season, but when the good Elijah Stewart shows up, it gives USC a huge boost on both ends of the court. And he’s only getting better.
“Elijah, his Pac-12 season, I think he’s averaging 13 or 14 points a game, he’s defending, he’s shooting over, I think, 50 percent from the three-point line,” Enfield said. “He’s limiting his turnovers. He’s putting the ball on the floor now and going to the basket. He’s just a much better basketball player than he was last year. And the sky is the limit for him.”
1. Talk about the tale of two halves for Jordan McLaughlin. He had zero points and nine assists in the first half, then followed that with nine points and one assist in the final 20 minutes.
2. It was announced before the game that Darion Clark will likely miss the next few weeks after dislocating a shoulder in practice. This is a big opportunity for Malik Martin to step up.
3. USC’s next game is a Friday night fiesta in the desert. The Trojans will take on Arizona State at 5 PM PT in its next game, before battling Arizona on Sunday at 5 PM PT. These next two games will be a big test.