This Game sets up perfectly to end the regular season as neither team had a Game during the week so both will be rested. Conveniently, both UCLA and USC sit on the bubble and a win here would do wonders in advancing each team’s situation for the NCAA Tournament. Funny enough, USC still has a chance to grab a share of the Pac-12 regular season title with Arizona.
The Bruins are in dire need of a win having lost their last two and even though they won the first meeting 82-79 between these teams in early February. That was a back-and-forth contest in which both offenses fell apart in the final few minutes. UCLA ended up getting a late three and then sealed it with a couple free throws.
Of course, that Game was at Pauley Pavilion where UCLA has lost just one Conference Game all season. On the other end, USC has lost just one Conference Game at the Galen Center, while UCLA is a brutal 2-6 in road Games in Pac-12 play. This sets up nicely for the Trojans, considering how that first Game went. USC is the better team on the surface and on paper and that should shine through at home. In that first Game, UCLA went 12-of-26 from three and gave up 14 offensive rebounds, yet still barely won. To steal one on the road, the Bruins will need a similar performance from deep.
That’s more than possible given that UCLA leads the Conference in three-point percentage to go with being the second-most efficient offense. The problem is that USC has the second-most efficient defense in the Pac-12, but also the third-best offense. That’s where the problem lies for the Bruins as they continually struggle on the defensive end.
The interesting thing for the Trojans is that they lost their second leading scorer in Bennie Boatwright, yet have kind of looked better in recent road wins at Utah and Colorado. Without Boatwright, USC has had to rely on its depth and that’s worked so far with eight guys seeing significant time. Surprisingly, USC’s bigs had the biggest advantage in that first Game with Chimezie Metu and Nick Rakocevic combining for 25 points and 22 rebounds.
Thomas Welsh is UCLA’s big guy as a stretch-five, but he also struggles against quicker and stronger players on the defensive end. Welsh and Aaron Holiday will need to play well if UCLA is to have a chance. Holiday was close to unstoppable in that first meeting with 23 points, six boards and nine assists. But to win on the road, others like freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands need to do more. That’s more than possible, but the experience of USC in its final home Game could come out.
Two seniors, Jordan McLAughlin and Elijah Stewart, know what’s on the line here and won’t go down easy. McLAughlin probably can’t match Holiday on the offensive end, but his supporting cast plays better defense and also has a bit more depth with Derryck Thornton and Jordan Usher coming off the bench.
The home-away difference for these teams is probably the biggest factor for this Game. There’s no reason UCLA is going to look any different in this road Game, even across town. It’s senior night for the Trojans and a win could confirm their spot in the NCAA Tournament and even a share of the Conference title.
Our Pick – USC -5.5