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UCLA

College Basketball Pick

2/18/17

UCLA went from being in the 1-seed conversation to being labeled the 15th-best team in the country and a 4-seed in last weekend's top-16 preview. But the Bruins haven't done many things wrong outside of playing in a top-heavy conference. Its only three losses came in difficult situations, at Oregon and USC and home against Arizona. To revenge that first loss at USC, the Bruins will be hungry to get another quality win coming in with four-straight victories.

USC has also been playing well, but at a lesser level. The Trojans reeled off five wins before losing to Oregon last Saturday. They still only have five losses on the season, with all of them coming in Pac-12 play. The issue is that they haven't won a road game against good competition. They didn't in non-conference play and so far have been dominated by the better teams in the conference like Oregon and Utah by 20-plus points. Of course, those losses came early in the year so it may be harder to take them into account.

When these teams met the first time, it was obvious why USC came out on the winning end, hitting a ridiculous 14 threes. While the Trojans take a lot of threes, they attempted one more three than two-pointer in that game and were still more efficient from long range. The difference in this game will probably be that UCLA won't go 6-of-20 from three-point land again or turn the ball over 17 times. While UCLA doesn't play the best defense, expecting USC to score 50 points in the first half again would be a stretch, especially on the road. Meanwhile, all signs point to the Bruins having a better offensive showing.

That's made possible because there's nothing great about the USC defense. The Trojans are one of the best at forcing turnovers, but it'd be a surprise if UCLA gave the ball away 17 times again. Lonzo Ball only had 15 points and four assists in that first game and he'll likely have a better outing. The same can be said for second-leading scorer Bryce Alford, who had just three points in 37 minutes. So while USC won that first game, almost everything went right for them.

The Trojans don't have one specific area they can attack UCLA at, as long as they don't make 14 threes again. That said, Bennie Boatwright didn't play in that first game and he's averaging almost 17 points per game in his last four and that could play a huge role here as a stretch four. Of course, he also helped USC lose to Oregon last game, going just 3-of-15 from the field. The Trojans will aim to get Chimezie Metu some early looks down low against Thomas Welsh, but USC's success could easily depend on how well they shoot the ball again between Jordan McLaughlin, De'Anthony Melton, Elijah Stewart, Shaqquan Aaron and Boatwright. Yes, everyone that plays for USC can shoot outside of Metu.

A lot of that can be made possible because UCLA's defense isn't great. But on the other end, the Trojans will have to find a way to stop Ball and company from reaching 90 points. Ball and Alford will likely have better games, while USC didn't have an answer for Isaac Hamilton in that first game. Boatwright should provide a good test for TJ Leaf, but he's tough to stop, no matter the opposition. Playing at home, UCLA showed what its offense could do in the comeback against Oregon last week and it's hard to see USC's defense being able to stop anything the Bruins throw at them this game.

UCLA by 14

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