UCLA refuses to lose its momentum

It wasn’t even halftime and already the UCLA players could see telltale signs.

They could see USC players making sloppy passes. Talking to each other.

“They were definitely frustrated,” UCLA center Alfred Aboya said.

It wasn’t even halftime and already the Bruins could see glimpses of fatigue.

“It was great,” guard Jrue Holiday said.

These were the symptoms of an unexpected blowout, 15th-ranked UCLA’s sprinting to a 76-60 win at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday night, a victory that was decided in the first 20 minutes of the game.


“I’ve come here a lot of times,” USC forward Taj Gibson said of playing in Westwood. “And it’s never been like this.”

Playing in front of the loudest home crowd of the season -- an announced attendance of 12,179 -- the Bruins won with pressure defense, holding USC stars Gibson and Daniel Hackett to a combined four points. They won with forward Nikola Dragovic’s raining three-point shots and Josh Shipp’s flying to the basket for a team-high 19 points.

This was the bad USC -- see the end of the Oregon State game -- looking flustered, suffering from poor shot selection and, even worse, 23 turnovers.

“That was the story of the ballgame,” USC Coach Tim Floyd said.

The victory improved UCLA’s record to 18-4, 8-2 in the Pacific 10, and gave them sole possession of first place in the conference standings for at least a day.

USC fell to 15-7, 6-4.

The last time these teams met, in early January, USC faltered down the stretch of a tight game, losing 64-60 at the Galen Center.

But the Trojans seemed to mature in the weeks after, pulling out a string of close victories. They were eager to show that kind of clutch play on the court of their biggest rival.

UCLA, meanwhile, wanted to prove it could sustain the momentum -- and defensive intensity -- from two impressive victories over California and Stanford last week.

The difference in strategies was immediately evident. While USC spread the floor, running time off the clock, the Bruins pushed the ball upcourt looking for any easy opportunities they could generate.

And from the beginning, UCLA controlled the pace.

Forward Drew Gordon slammed home a put-back and Holiday snaked through the defense for a layup. Dragovic’s fourth three-pointer of the first half stretched the early lead to 21 points.

The same thing happened last month, Floyd bemoaning that his team got outplayed at the beginning. This time, however, there would be no comeback.

By halftime, the score was 44-21 and, if the crowd needed any more encouragement, UCLA football Coach Rick Neuheisel grabbed a microphone and screamed: “I don’t know about you, but I like that halftime score. . . . Get used to that in every sport.”

The Bruins might have a ways to catch up in football, but there is no doubt about their dominance in the basketball version of the cross-town rivalry this season.

Wednesday night’s victory put two games in the loss column between them and USC. It also put pressure on Washington, the team that was previously tied with UCLA atop the conference standings, to keep winning.

The news got even worse for USC in the second half when Gibson came out of the game, wincing in pain, and quickly hurried to the locker room. He returned later, the fingers on his right hand bandaged.

With 9:12 remaining, the Trojans lost another starter as Hackett fouled out.

And every time the Trojans even remotely threatened to mount a run, UCLA showed it had learned something from earlier losses this season.

Instead of resorting to outside shots, the Bruins pushed inside, scoring on layups or getting to the foul line, where they made 23 of 31 shots.

Aboya was particularly dominant in the paint, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

“If we can keep playing like this the rest of the way,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said, “we’re going to win a lot of games.”



Up next for UCLA


Saturday, 10 a.m., Pauley Pavilion, Channel 2 -- After a hiatus of several seasons, the Bruins take on the Irish, who have lost six in a row, in an intersectional rivalry.

-- David Wharton


Fun to watch

UCLA and USC always bring out the best in each other, Chris Dufresne writes. PAGE 7