USC and UCLA have a score to settle in Pac-12 semifinal

 Chevez Goodwin and UCLA's Tyger Campbell grapple for the ball as guard Jules Bernard watches March 5 at Pauley Pavilion.
Second-seeded UCLA Bruins will face the third-seeded USC Trojans in a Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinal Friday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The rivalry needs resolution, if even just for this moment, in this latest battle for supremacy.

Round 1 went to USC in February, the Trojans pushing through the absence of their top player, Isaiah Mobley, and guard Drew Peterson filling the void to overflow with one improbable shot after another.

Round 2 went to UCLA last week, the Bruins saying they needed to put their life on the line and playing as if that wasn’t an exaggeration, willing themselves past their crosstown counterparts for the first time in more than three years.

Those conflicting results left the teams and their respective fan bases in need of some clarity just ahead of the NCAA tournament. Even with bigger games ahead, an unofficial city title hangs in the balance Friday night at T-Mobile Arena when the second-seeded Bruins face the third-seeded Trojans in a Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinal.


No banners will be raised, no jewelry designed as a result of the outcome — although UCLA fans might joke otherwise after the Trojans recently distributed Elite Eight rings — but the winners could tug on the front of their jerseys, pulling out the letters on the chest to declare themselves the best college basketball team in Los Angeles.

Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s 23 points led UCLA to a 75-65 win over Washington State in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday in Las Vegas.

The winner will face either top-seeded Arizona or fourth-seeded Colorado in the championship game Saturday evening.

It’s been a long time since either the Bruins or the Trojans cut down the nets in this tournament. UCLA has not won the event since 2014, when it was played at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. USC’s title drought is longer, its roster including DeMar DeRozan and Taj Gibson when the Trojans last prevailed in 2009 in what was then the Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center.

Both teams are safely in the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome Friday, leaving only doubts of seed, not seeds of doubt. ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi told The Times earlier this week that UCLA could rise as high as a No. 2 seed by winning the Pac-12 tournament, though a No. 3 seed was more likely.

Lunardi projected USC as a No. 7 seed in his Friday bracket. One bonus of winning the rivalry rematch between the Trojans and Bruins was increasing the likelihood of remaining on the West Coast for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament, with spots available in San Diego and Portland, Ore.

Over the last week and a half, USC had played like a team that deserved to get shipped to Buffalo, N.Y. The Trojans suffered a 20-point beatdown against Arizona, needed a late rally to avoid a blowout loss to UCLA and appeared on the verge of a turnover-fueled collapse in their Pac-12 tournament opener late Thursday night against Washington.

USC had 23 turnovers but still managed to escape with a 65-61 win over Washington on Thursday in the Pac-12 quaterfinal in Las Vegas.

It took some clumsy Huskies offense in the final minutes, the team following one empty possession with another, for the Trojans to persevere on a night they committed a season-high 23 turnovers. Guard Boogie Ellis’ 17 points made him USC’s only player to reach double figures as forward Isaiah Mobley and Peterson each finished with nine points while struggling to find a rhythm.

Meanwhile, in what might sound like a misprint, UCLA continued to search for offensive production from its leading scorer. Guard Johnny Juzang scored six points against Washington State, making only three of eight shots in his second game back from a sprained right ankle that had forced him to sit out the previous 21/2 games and compounding his lack of production with two charging violations.

The Bruins won comfortably thanks to the continued transformation of guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. into more of a power forward. His low-post moves tormented one helpless defender after another on the way to 23 points, sustaining a recent surge in which he has averaged 26.7 points over his last three games, including 27 against USC last week.

If Jaquez could bully the Trojans once more Friday, the final round in the rivalry this season might very well go to the Bruins.