Their act wore thin at the end
Footage of the last 6 1/2 minutes of Sunday’s crosstown rivalry game probably wouldn’t be considered Oscar-worthy short-film material by anyone in USC’s renowned School of Cinematic Arts, even though it managed to intertwine elements of drama, comedy and horror.
The drama: Despite a shortened bench and an awful night by freshmen O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson, the Trojans were still very much alive when sophomore Dwight Lewis made two free throws to pull USC to within four, at 46-42, with 6 minutes 36 seconds remaining.
The comedy: UCLA guard Russell Westbrook hounded USC counterpart Mayo into a comedy of errors over the final six minutes, though Mayo said most of the miscues were of his own doing.
The horror: Besides the black USC uniforms with red trim, there was the realization following the Trojans’ 56-46 defeat that they could need to win at least three of their final six regular-season games to secure an NCAA tournament berth -- no sure thing with sophomore guard Daniel Hackett sidelined indefinitely with a stress fracture in his lower back.
“As long as we keep playing defense like that, we’ll be OK,” Hackett said after watching his teammates hold the sixth-ranked Bruins to 29.6% shooting in the second half and 33.9% for the game.
With UCLA shots continually bouncing off the rim or missing it altogether, the Trojans had multiple chances to cut into a six-point deficit over the final six minutes after a layup by Bruins forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made it 48-42.
But one USC possession ended when a Mayo three-point attempt rolled out. Another ended when a Mayo entry pass intended for Jefferson was intercepted. And a third ended when a Mayo three-point try early in the shot clock missed.
“We had many opportunities, we just turned the ball over too much and I didn’t step up when my teammates needed me,” said Mayo, who finished with a career-worst 10 turnovers and a career-low four points on two-for-eight shooting.
Freshman Kevin Love extended UCLA’s lead to 50-42 with 2:36 remaining when he put back his own miss, but Jefferson had a chance to get the points back when he was fouled 13 seconds later.
Jefferson missed both free-throw attempts, leading to a groan from the capacity crowd of 10,258 on the second miss.
Yet, the Bruins couldn’t capitalize when they missed two shots at their end of the court and the Trojans got the ball back -- only to have Mayo called for traveling on a drive to the basket.
Two more UCLA misses provided another opportunity that USC finally seized when Lewis made two free throws to slice the deficit to 50-44 with 1:01 left.
Mbah a Moute gave the Trojans one final opening when he missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity with 56 seconds to go, but Mayo traveled in the backcourt and the Bruins hit their final six free throws to secure the victory.
“The game was there,” USC sophomore forward Taj Gibson said. “They handed the game to us a couple of plays, we just didn’t take care of the ball and that hurt us at the end.”
Jefferson, who had a career-high 25 points during USC’s 72-63 victory over UCLA last month, was held to four points on two-for-eight shooting Sunday.
After calling out the Bruins for not being physical in the first meeting, did Jefferson notice a difference in the rematch? “No. Same old, same old,” he said. “We just beat ourselves.”
With 16 points and 12 rebounds Sunday, Gibson notched his fourth double-double of the season and first since Jan. 24 against Oregon State. Gibson also had five blocks to give him 127 for his career, within one of tying Lorenzo Orr for third place on the school’s all-time list. . . . The Trojans, who play Oregon on Thursday night at the Galen Center, are scheduled to resume practice today after taking Monday off.