USC able to marginalize UCLA in 67-46 rout

UCLA fans had something to cheer about Saturday afternoon.

The EagleBank Bowl trophy was paraded around Pauley Pavilion, with football Coach Rick Neuheisel announcing that “if you’ve been paying attention to this past week you can see the [college football] landscape shift a little.”

Of course, that came at halftime of a game that demonstrated the college basketball monopoly in Los Angeles is apparently over, at least for now.

By the time USC was done with a 67-46 win, the going-nowhere Trojans had their largest victory margin over UCLA since 1945, four seasons before some young guy named Wooden showed up in Westwood.

“I had no idea, but thanks for telling me,” said USC guard Dwight Lewis, who had a game-high 24 points. “That’s good to know.”

It wasn’t such a scrapbook moment in the other locker room.

“I’m embarrassed for our team,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. “I feel embarrassed for the program, for the former players and coaches. That’s all you can say, it was embarrassing.”

Basically, while the Trojans (11-6 overall, 3-2 in Pacific 10 Conference play) have self-imposed sanctions that prevent them from participating in the NCAA tournament, the Bruins (7-10, 2-3) are playing like they don’t belong in the postseason.

“It’s disconcerting,” forward Reeves Nelson said. “To have to know that the media guide is going to have this score for everyone to see, and our names are going to be on the stats, is not very fun.”

The fun was pretty one-sided, and if there was any silver lining for UCLA it was that the pain was over fairly quickly.

UCLA, which has struggled with its man-to-man defense this season, appeared to get an impressive defensive stop early, forcing Lewis to fling the ball to beat the shot clock. Three Bruins then stood and watched USC’s Marcus Johnson get the rebound and feed Lewis for a 10-footer for a 9-4 lead.

History was in motion, USC on its way to its biggest victory at Pauley, and its biggest win over the Bruins at any venue since beating them 53-25 at home on Jan. 5, 1945.

The Trojans had lost consecutive games since the administration’s announcement of self-imposed sanctions.

“We got knocked in the head and put in a position where we couldn’t play in the postseason,” Coach Kevin O’Neill said.

The solution? “Every game we can win is a championship game to me,” O’Neill said.

USC deserved to cut down the nets Saturday, jumping to a 15-4 lead in the first seven minutes and never looking back. Lewis had seven field goals in the first half. UCLA had eight.

It got worse for the Bruins.

The Balkan battle went to the Trojans. USC’s Montenegro-born forward Nikola Vucevic had a career-high 19 points, making nine of 12 shots. UCLA’s Serbian forward Nikola Dragovic had two points, missing all six of his shots.

USC had a 37-22 rebounding edge. UCLA had only five assists. USC shot 52%. UCLA shot 33%.

To paraphrase Howland, the Bruins didn’t play man-to-man well, or zone. They didn’t block out on rebounds and they turned the ball over. And the offense . . . well, Howland said, “We struggled to score. We couldn’t score.”

The Trojans used a 10-1 run to go up 47-26 with 13 minutes left, and UCLA began practicing for its next game.

“The last 10 to 12 minutes, I just said we have to work on our man defense here,” Howland said. “We have to try to get back to what our identity is, which is being a defensive team man to man.”

By then the exodus was in motion, a fan migration for the exits with five minutes left. It became a stampede a minute later.

“We’re going to reevaluate our game and see where the breakdowns are coming,” guard Malcolm Lee said. “We have to build from the ground up. This is our house. It is our crowd. They came in here and took our hearts from us. We can’t let that happen, especially at Pauley.”

It did Saturday.

“I think this is better than the time I won here my sophomore year,” said Lewis, a senior. “Just to do it in this fashion is a good way to go out.”