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UCLA holds a lengthy team meeting after fourth consecutive loss to USC

UCLA forward TJ Leaf, left, battles for a rebound with USC forward Chimezie Metu during first half action at the Galen Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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UCLA wanted to talk more. Not like this.

The chatter was supposed to be about help defense, not a cry for help. The words were meant to soothe, not inflame. Deliberations were intended to be about a mind-numbing quantity of points, not turnovers.

The eighth-ranked Bruins did not emerge from their locker room for nearly a half hour after their 84-76 meltdown against USC on Wednesday night at the Galen Center gave them reason to talk among themselves. And then talk some more.

UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball quickly revealed after the long wait that there had been a team meeting led by the seniors after the Bruins had, as he put it, “split ways” en route to a second consecutive defeat that left them with their first losing streak of the season. Ball apparently didn’t have much input after his sloppiest college game resulted in a career-worst seven turnovers to go with his 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

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“Everybody knows what I’m about,” Ball said, “so I don’t have to say too much.”

Say this for the Bruins: They suddenly look lost after starting the season with 19 wins in their first 20 games. Their once-in-a-generation offense has been foiled in two consecutive games, and their defense didn’t have much of a chance after 17 turnovers against the Trojans left them backpedaling for nearly 40 minutes.

The unraveling was so complete that it was hard to recall the Bruins once held a double-digit lead and center Thomas Welsh had resembled Wilt Chamberlain while scoring 10 points in the first 5 1/2 minutes before USC’s Lilliputian lineup smartly switched to a zone defene for the balance of the game.

“We had a hard time finding him at that point,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said of Welsh, who finished with 13 points, “because it wasn’t a one-on-one matchup anymore.”

Ball continually forced passes into the teeth of the Trojans’ defense, which was out of character for someone who entered the game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.58 to 1. It was the first time all season he finished a game with more turnovers than assists.

Ball’s teammates didn’t give him much help, with Bryce Alford making only one of seven shots for a season-low three points, TJ Leaf meandering a bit for a second consecutive game and Aaron Holiday needlessly making a behind-the-back pass for a turnover in the final minutes to erase any chance of a comeback, however remote.

UCLA’s four guards averaged 34.5 minutes of playing time and looked outmanned for the first time this season, making one wonder if Prince Ali should reconsider redshirting to give the Bruin an extra body and another athletic perimeter defender besides Holiday.

Steve Alford didn’t seem worried that anyone had cracked the code of UCLA’s high-flying offense even after it sputtered and crashed for the second time in five days.

“No, two different styles,” Alford said of the defenses his team faced. “Arizona was all man, this team was basically all zone.”

It felt like the Twilight Zone after the Trojans posted their fourth consecutive victory in the rivalry but their first over a Bruins team that only a week ago felt like it possessed the pedigree of some of its legendary predecessors.

UCLA (19-3 overall, 6-3 Pac-12 Conference) has reached the midpoint of conference play nearing the end of its wits. Ball said he couldn’t remember the last time he had lost two games in a row. Steve Alford suggested some time away from basketball might help before the Bruins reconvene to prepare for their next game Wednesday at Washington State, where they have lost three consecutive games going back to Coach Ben Howland’s final turbulent season at UCLA.

It’s safe to assume the Bruins will continue to talk things out over the next week.

“We’ve got to come together and I feel like we went apart and that’s what the team meeting was for,” Ball said. “We’ll bounce back.”

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch


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