UCLA ends losing streak vs. USC, delivering Mick Cronin his first win over rival
The streak is over.
It suffered a noisy demise Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA fans roaring in the final seconds of a breakthrough victory over USC. Jaime Jaquez Jr., the primary Bruins protagonist, turned and pointed both fingers at the student section, and Jaylen Clark sprinted over to celebrate with his classmates.
With one determined low-post move after another, Jaquez nudged No. 17 UCLA toward a long-awaited, 75-68 triumph before a sold-out crowd. Staying aggressive from the game’s opening moments, the junior guard scored 27 points while making 10 of 16 shots to help bury a regrettable chunk of Bruins history.
The outcome ended more than three years of rivalry angst — five consecutive Bruins losses, two Trojans buzzer-beaters and endless ribbing from across town. It also put to rest any talk about how UCLA coach Mick Cronin couldn’t beat USC counterpart Andy Enfield after starting 0-5 in head-to-head matchups.
The success of their respective basketball programs have made USC’s Andy Enfield and UCLA’s Mick Cronin two of the hotter names on the coaching market.
None of that matters now.
The Bruins finally prevailed after committing just one turnover, their fewest for any game on record, while forcing 15.
“The difference in the game,” said Cronin, who was nevertheless grumpy over his team’s failure to finish the game cleanly amid a series of empty possessions.
Down by 11 with five minutes left, the No. 16 Trojans put themselves on the verge of another improbable finish. They pulled to within 70-68 with 1:22 to go after Isaiah Mobley made a layup and was fouled, making the free throw to complete the three-point play.
“I just kept telling the guys, ‘Believe, believe, believe,’” said Mobley, who finished with a team-high 20 points. “That’s all you can do.”
UCLA’s Cody Riley made a turnaround jumper in the lane, extending his team’s advantage to four points, before Mobley missed a short jump hook and teammate Max Agbonkpolo stepped out of bounds with 30 seconds left, appearing to seal the Trojans’ fate.
But UCLA guard Johnny Juzang, clearly out of rhythm in his return from an ankle injury that sidelined him the previous 2½ games, provided an opening by missing two free throws. USC guard Reese Dixon-Waters misfired on a three-pointer before UCLA’s Jules Bernard made enough free throws over the final seconds to give UCLA its first victory in the series since February 2019.
“I was just like, oh my God, we can’t let this one slip away right now,” said Jaquez, who has scored 57 points over his last two games while his bothersome ankles appeared fully recovered. “We put a lot of effort going back down on the defensive end and doing everything we could to get a stop.”
Playing with a disgruntled edge, the Bruins (23-6 overall, 15-5 Pac-12) secured second place in the conference standings behind champion Arizona to go with the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament that starts next week. The Trojans (25-6, 14-6) will be the No. 3 seed.
After being honored alongside fellow seniors Riley and David Singleton before the game, Bernard finished with 19 points in what could have been his final home game.
Jaquez carried his team midway through the second half. He made a jump hook, buried one jumper and then another before finding Bernard for a three-pointer that lifted the Bruins into a 62-54 lead with 10 minutes left.
A few minutes earlier, after USC briefly pulled into a tie, Jaquez responded in emphatic fashion, driving from the perimeter for a one-handed dunk that sparked another run.
“He made some tough ones,” Mobley said. “Part of that, I was guarding [him]. That’s on me. I take accountability for it. But you start helping on Jaime, Jules hits a corner three. You tip your hat to them for making some tough ones and the open ones.”
The Trojans couldn’t get a strong sequel out of Drew Peterson following his 27-point effort against UCLA last month at Galen Center. Peterson scored 13 points, making four of nine shots while defended by a variety of Bruins.
Some had questioned whether Jaquez could sustain his recent scoring surge that included a career-high 30 points against Washington while going against a team like the Trojans that featured superior length and athleticism. Jaquez answered with 13 points by halftime while repeatedly attacking Mobley and making four of five shots to thrill the crowd of 13,659.
UCLA’s football team joined in on the fun during a timeout late in the first half when it rolled out the Victory Bell it had secured with a 62-33 beatdown of the Trojans in November. Football players joyfully rang the bell and hurled T-shirts into the crowd.
North Carolina beat Duke 94-81 in the final game of Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at Cameron Indoor Stadium with 90 ex-Blue Devils players on hand.
This looked like it might become a similar runaway when Juzang scored on a putback to put the Bruins up by 11 before the Trojans, who have been so hard to put away recently, rallied to force the late drama.
In the end, the Bruins got it done, enjoying themselves and the rivalry once more.
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