As crazy as it sounds, sometimes it takes a Bruin to dissect a Trojan basketball victory. USC, which was led by Dwight Lewis's 24 points and 5 three-pointers, demolished UCLA on its home court by a score of 67-46 - the biggest victory ever by ‘SC at the hallowed Pauley Pavilion. In the wake of such a demolition in Westwood, even the UCLA perspective can be somewhat enlightening.
When asked about the frustrating loss, Bruin fans seem to be agreeing in unison regarding the defeat, as nearly all of them are blaming the team's general lack of effort and even head coach Ben Howland for the dismal performance. But nothing could be more accurate.
From the opening tip, UCLA looked lackadaisical on offense and on defense. Instead of aggressively attacking the basket on the offensive end, the Bruins appeared content at simply shooting from the outside instead of working for the higher percentage shot. Collectively, they attempted 20 three point shots but made just 3 of them for 15%. Nikola Dragovic, who has been regarded as the team's best player at times this season, was particularly disappointed for the UCLA faithful. The Serbian native, who has been averaging just over 10 points this season, scored just six points on 0-for-6 shooting - a representative effort for the entire group.
Defensively, they were just as poor and Howland shares a lot of the responsibility for that. The Bruins started off the game in a man-to-man defense and were burned by the Trojans over and over. Before two minutes had even gone by, the Trojans already held a 7-0 lead, and at one point near the end of the first half, they held an even larger 30-13 lead. Later on the Bruins switched to a zone defense, which helped to slow the game down, but it was too little too late as ‘SC continued to surge.
But while the 21-point blowout highlighted a lot of the problems that exist in Westwood, Saturday night's contest also illustrated a lot of the positives about this current Trojan bunch.
While Mike Gerrity had another disappointing game (0 points, 4 assists, 8 rebounds), the rest of the group was certainly impressive. Lewis and Nikola Vucevic proved to be an effective 1-2 punch that made it tough on Ben Howland's bunch.
Lewis continued his hot streak - 3 straight games of 20+ points - by scoring a season high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting. For Vucevic, the game marked his return to the dominant play that he showcased during nonconference play, as he posted 19 points and collected 6 rebounds. Matching up against UCLA's frontline, Vucevic, outperformed all three starting forwards, who combined to have only 15 points and 9 rebounds.
Combining that type of offensive output (Lewis and Vucevic combined for 64% of the team's scoring) with great efficiency (the team shot 52% as a whole), the Trojans are going to be incredibly tough to beat. Kevin O'Neill's bunch is already well-known for its defensive prowess (they was again posted an impressive defensive field goal percentage of 33.3%) so when the offensive is clicking, the Trojans look like that team that defeated highly ranked Tennessee back in December.
But in the meanwhile, it's important for ‘SC fans to take a step back and appreciate what has just transpired within the past hours. The Trojans' first road victory of the year, a total demolition of the Bruins, improved their record to 11-6 on the year, while UCLA continues its slide by falling to 7-10 on the year.
As Bob Dylan once said, "the times they are a-changin'" At least in terms of the college basketball scene in Los Angeles, such is true.