USC came up just short on Friday against the hated bruins and will now wait for their NCAA Tournament opponent and destination on Sunday's CBS Selection Show. Many will remember O.J. Mayo, playing in what could be his first and only Pac-10 Tournament, miss the potential game-tying 3-point attempt at the end of regulation, but that is not why the Trojans lost this game. It was a tale of two halves, but USC's brilliant 1st half performance was matched by ucla in the 2nd half. I was there in Staples Center, among mostly bruins fans, and it a tough loss to swallow. I want to reflect on this one before we move forward to the "Big Dance," when it really matters.
This game was decided when the bruins went on a 17-2 run that turned an 8-point deficit into a 7 point lead. USC put itself in a position where they had to play catchup for the entire 2nd half. That is a shame because right before that 17-2 bruins run, USC was rolling. Davon Jefferson led all scorers with 12 points at the half, and Keith Wilkinson came off the bench to hit back to back 3 pointers that put USC ahead 30-22. USC had its foot on ucla's throat, leading 34-26 in the waning seconds of the first half. Ucla was down a starter after Luc Richard Mbah a Moute left the game with an ankle injury, and freshman sensation Kevin Love had been a non-factor to that point. The Trojans were the aggressors on both sides of the court and stifled the bruins with their "triangle and 2" defense, forcing the bruins to settle for shots from the perimeter.
Momentum, however, was about to shift to the enemies from Westwood. Just before halftime, ucla's Darren Collison raced down the court and put up a desparation shot at the buzzer that sank to the bottom of the net, cutting the Trojans' lead to 34-28, and ucla was to have possession to start the 2nd half. The bruins scored a lay-up on their first possession and then stole the inbounds pass for another lay up. The Trojans were stunned as their lead was cut to 34-32. That's when Kevin Love took over, scoring the bruins' next 11 points to cap off the 17-2 run to give the bruins an insurmountable 41-34 lead. Davon Jefferson was scoreless in the 2nd half and committed 4 turnovers in the game. Taj Gibson was frustrated by ucla's aggresive double teams and finished with a lowly 5 points and 4 turnovers.
The bruins just outplayed us in the 2nd half, mostly due to Kevin Love, who finished with a game high 19 points and 10 rebounds. Bruins coach Ben Howland adjusted well to the triangle and 2 defense and forced Tim Floyd to abandon it and play a traditional man to man defense down the stretch. The bruins then held on and survived a late flurry from Mayo who scored 5 straight points to cut the lead to 2 at 54-52. After an exchange of free throws, USC trailed by only 3 at 57-54, and the stage was set for a classic finish. Mayo would have become an instant legend if he could have buried that 3 pointer over Josh Shipp. I would have liked our chances in overtime, especially after weathering the storm and battling back to tie the game, but instead he'll have to wait for Mayo to pull of some March Madness magic in the NCAA Tournament.
[photos] courtesy of: LA Times