‘Life on the line,’ UCLA prepares for latest attempt to end losing streak against USC
Diplomacy is not an option in the cross-town rivalry. No matter what it takes, UCLA needs to beat USC, and it needs to do so Saturday when the teams meet at Pauley Pavilion.
“We’ve got to put our life on the line,” senior guard David Singleton, one of the handful of Bruins who have experienced any success in the series, said late Monday night.
There is no amount of exaggeration that can adequately describe how much UCLA wants to end its five-game losing streak against the Trojans, the Bruins’ longest slide against their rivals since the 1940s. Two of the losses have come on shots in the final seconds. Two have come at Pauley Pavilion.
All have been excruciating.
Among UCLA’s top players, only Singleton, Cody Riley and Jules Bernard have been part of a team that beat USC. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell have gone 0-5 in games they’ve played against the Trojans. Jake Kyman has gone 0-4. Jaylen Clark has gone 0-3. Johnny Juzang has gone 0-2.
No. 17 UCLA overcame a sleepy first half and got a needed jolt from Jaime Jaquez Jr. to beat Washington 77-66 for a key win Monday night in Seattle.
“We have a lot of guys in the locker room that haven’t beaten them,” Jaquez said. “I know I haven’t, I mean, it’s something that we need to do. It’s really do or die for us, like Dave said, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got to try to get that win.”
Overhearing Jaquez’s remarks while walking past his teammate and two reporters inside Alaska Airlines Arena, Singleton wanted to ensure the right message was getting across.
“Life on the line, huh, Jaime?” Singleton interjected.
“Yeah, that’s what I said, that’s what I said,” Jaquez responded.
“Yeah,” Singleton said, satisfied the point had been made.
Singleton will also set the tone Saturday given his role as the designated speaker inside UCLA’s pregame hype huddle. He probably won’t have to remind his teammates what’s at stake.
The No. 17 Bruins could tie or overtake the No. 16 Trojans in the Pac-12 standings as the rivals jockey for seedings in the conference and NCAA tournaments. More important, UCLA can end the frustration that’s lingered like a deep facial scar.
Bernard was among the Bruins heroes the last time they prevailed in the rivalry, making a one-handed floater in the lane in overtime to put his team ahead for good in a 93-88 triumph.
The date: Feb. 28, 2019. That was two coaches and three years ago.
During No. 12 UCLA’s busiest stretch of the season, coach Mick Cronin is ensuring players are given the needed rest and mental preparation.
The Trojans beat UCLA earlier this season at the Galen Center without star forward Isaiah Mobley, making their 67-64 victory an even bigger insult to the Bruins. UCLA is hopeful that leading scorer Johnny Juzang, who has sat out the last two games with a sprained right ankle, can recover in time to play Saturday.
UCLA took Tuesday off after completing a stretch of six games in 12 days, coach Mick Cronin and his assistants presumably settling in to watch USC’s showdown against Arizona on television. The Bruins (21-6 overall, 14-5 Pac-12) were scheduled to reconvene Wednesday for a light practice, though it might be unusually lively given the upcoming opponent.
“It won’t be like we’re practicing like it’s November,” Cronin said. “It will be film, sports science stuff, stretch, recovery, some shooting. Our days of hard practice, there’s very few of those left. I think if you have to practice and build habits this time of year, you haven’t done your job earlier in the year. So I would defer to fresh legs and strategy.”
The most invigorating test could come Saturday.
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