UCLA hosts USC with potential Pac-12 title on line

NCAA Men's Basketball

UCLA and crosstown rival USC meet Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles to conclude their 2020-21 regular season.

The host Bruins (17-7, 13-5 Pac-12) and Trojans (20-6, 14-5) head into Saturday’s finale tied in the loss column for second place in the Pac-12. First-place Oregon ends its regular season at Oregon State on Sunday, and the winner of the USC-UCLA game could still match the Ducks in the loss column atop the conference.

In that case, the UCLA-USC winner would have more Pac-12 wins than Oregon (and a higher winning percentage), which would give them the No. 1 seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament.

In recent weeks, it was Oregon chasing the LA schools, but the Ducks caught and passed the Trojans and Bruins, most notably Wednesday night, when UCLA suffered a second-half collapse in Eugene, Ore., and lost 82-74. UCLA surrendered 45 points in the second half, which was the Bruins’ second straight after a four-game winning streak had propelled them back into the Pac-12 title hunt.

“If you’re going to beat a team like this … it’s going to take a way better defensive effort,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said in his postgame press conference.

USC, meanwhile, rebounded Wednesday from back-to-back losses to Colorado and Utah with a 79-42 blowout of Stanford. The Trojans held the Cardinal to just 25.4 percent shooting in the rout, and did not allow any Stanford players to score in double figures.

The 42 points USC allowed Stanford was a season-low for the Trojans, whose previous best defensive effort was allowing UCLA only 48 points on Feb. 6. In that one, USC limited UCLA to 33.9-percent shooting and won by 18 points.

Both the win over UCLA win and the decimation of Stanford on Wednesday stand in sharp contrast to USC’s recent losses, when the Trojans gave up 81 points to Arizona, 80 to Colorado, and 71 to Utah.

“We got back to who we are and who we’re capable of being,” Chevez Goodwin said. “I feel like we’re back on track now.”

The Trojans are ranked 15th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com metrics. For its part, UCLA is No. 19 in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Opponents are shooting just 38.7 percent against the Trojans on the season, the eighth-lowest yield of all Division I teams headed into the weekend. Freshman center Evan Mobley’s 2.85 blocked shots per game, ranked eighth among all players, provides a cornerstone for the USC defense. Mobley also leads the Trojans with 16.2 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

The 48 points UCLA scored against USC last month marked a season low for the Bruins. Johnny Juzang was the only Bruin to score in double-figures in that matchup, notching 13 points — but shot just 6-of-21 from the floor.

–Field Level Media

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