UCLA gets back in business at USC

UCLA gets back in business at USC
UCLA's Isaac Hamilton dribbles the ball while USC defender Malik Marquetti tries to steal the ball away during the Bruins' 83-66 win over the Trojans on Jan. 14. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

For USC basketball it was the usual chaos, selfies on the Galen Center scoreboard, pizza deliveries in the stands, parachutes floating down from the rafters.

For UCLA, for once, it was not.

In their first basketball meeting with the Trojans this season, the Bruins didn't fall behind 24-0. They didn't fail to score 20 points in the first half. Bryce Alford didn't miss 19 straight shots.

There were no calls for Coach Steve Alford's job, no hand-wringing over the loss of Ben Howland's talent, and no dire predictions the Bruins will absolutely, positively fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament.


"We're not that bad," said acclaimed freshman Kevon Looney.

You know, maybe they're not, not after their third consecutive Pac-12 victory and third consecutive occasion in which they've avoided complete embarrassment, this time in a 83-66 win over poor, lost USC.

"We're getting better," said Steve Alford, and, granted, the bar was set pretty low after all those double arm-bar pins administered by ranked teams, but, hey, the Bruins have beaten Stanford in double overtime, California by 19, and now the Trojans by 17.

"We got a little bit of swagger back," said the coach and he meant that literally.

This was a night when the embattled Bryce Alford actually hit five of his eight three-pointers before racing back downcourt with a sweaty stare, when Tony Parker missed only one of seven shots while pumping his fist, when Looney had another double-double while smiling like he owns the court, which one day he probably will.

As perhaps a final bit of frustration for USC, afterward the UCLA boss revealed that he actually used the greatest of Trojans inspirations in helping the Bruins break out of the funk in their recent five-game losing streak during which they were outscored, 359-263.

Yeah, that's right, Alford took the players to see the movie "Unbroken," which is about the incredible life of the most incredible USC athlete ever, Louis Zamperini.

"It was definitely good timing to see that movie in the middle of all this," said Bryce Alford. "It helped us remember there's a lot bigger things than a five-game losing streak."

For USC, it was a night that began in sadness and never really got any better. Shortly before the game, the Trojans learned of the death of longtime basketball coach Bob Boyd of natural causes at age 84. It would have been the fitting night for a Trojans victory as Boyd, who led USC from 1967 to 1979, was the only coach who ever beat John Wooden at Pauley Pavilion, and he did it twice.

According to Boyd's longtime assistant coach Jim Hefner, Boyd was found dead by his son Bill when being picked up at his home for the drive to the game.

"What he did for USC and USC basketball was part of history for this school," said a tearful Hefner, who didn't learn of the death until he arrived at the arena to sit with his old friend. "I cannot tell you what a great guy he was.''

After a moment of silence was observed, the game began and UCLA was just louder and more forceful than a seemingly forever young USC team that has gone 20-29 in two seasons under Coach Andy Enfield.

The Bruins led by five at halftime, then pulled away with a 15-2 run to start the second half thanks to the inside work of Parker and Looney and a couple of bombs by Alford. When USC pulled back within nine late in the game, the Bruins quickly responded with more Parker and Looney, and ended not only with big points in the paint, but with 21 more rebounds.

This is apparently how the Bruins, without a true point guard, are going to have to survive. Thanks to five pro defections and a couple of recruiting mistakes, they are young and mismatched and are going to have pound it in a way that wasn't necessary during last year's Sweet 16 run.

"We've worked as hard as we possibly can to try to figure out other ways of scoring with this team," said Steve Alford. "We're playing differently than what we did last year from an offensive standpoint. For three games now, it's worked. Don't know if it's going to continue."

Looney said he still believes they can be playing in mid-March — "This is a great conference, if we get the big wins, we will be in the tournament."

More realistically, they are going to have to play well enough to get a decent draw in the Pac-12 tournament, then hope to re-create some of last year's magic.

"We've got a long season ahead of us," Steve Alford said, which, all told, is a huge improvement from a couple of weeks ago when that season seemed over.