There was nothing like a little lip service to wake up UCLA’s basketball team.
The Bruins appeared in a daze against USC in the first half Saturday night. It had the hangover look from their last effort, a loss to Oregon State.
So Steve Alford took a page from the coaching handbook at halftime.
“We got chewed out,” guard Jordan Adams said.
Maybe Alford should have done that with his pregame speech.
The Bruins found another gear in the second half — at least for seven minutes — and carved out an 83-73 victory over USC in the Galen Center.
A win over the Pac-12’s last-place team is considered a formality. But for the Bruins (18-5 overall, 7-3 in Pac-12 play) it was like group therapy.
“We felt like we have been playing soft,” guard Norman Powell said. “We had a lot of defensive lapses.”
This was different, at least in the second half.
“To win games on the road, you have to do it defensively,” Powell said.
The Bruins put together a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance — mild-mannered in the first half, a monster in the second half.
UCLA scored the first 10 points after halftime. It grew into a 27-6 run that gave the Bruins a 62-47 lead. USC scored only 11 points in the first 12 minutes of the half.
When asked what he said in the locker room with his team trailing, 41-35, at halftime, Alford said, “Defend.”
But it wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it, and whom he said it to — Adams, Powell and Kyle Anderson.
“Coaches, they get tense,” Adams said. “They get mad. Coach Alford got on me and Kyle and Norman.”
But, Adams said, “We don’t get chewed out much.”
Well, there was last Sunday after the debacle in Corvallis, a 71-67 loss to Oregon State.
“We’re fine getting chewed out,” Adams said. “We’re getting used to it.”
This one had an effect.
“He put it on us, we’re the main defenders,” Adams said. “We came out and made our run and never looked back.”
Powell was the spark as the Bruins completed a regular-season sweep of USC (10-13, 1-9). He made five of his first six shots in the second half, working inside (one tomahawk dunk) and outside (two three-pointers).
He finished with a season-high 21 points. The Bruins had four players in double figures, with Adams scoring 17, Anderson 15 and Travis Wear 11. Anderson also had 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Byron Wesley had 27 points for the Trojans.
The Bruins found the second-half outburst cathartic.
“I didn’t like the looks on our faces” in the first half, Alford said. “But to take that punch in the first half and only be two possessions down gave us a chance.”
The Bruins spent the week trying to solve what ailed them in Corvallis. There seemed no improvement in the first 20 minutes.
“Any time you have a setback, it’s not easy getting back up,” Alford said.
USC exploited shoddy defense and led by as many as 10 points before settling for a six-point halftime lead.
“We definitely came out flat,” Powell said.
Wesley had 18 points in the first half, making seven of nine shots. The Trojans shot 59% in the half.
The Bruins, meanwhile, were 33% from the field, a continuation of their shooting woes. Those were highlighted by Zach LaVine, who had a dunk attempt ricochet off the rim.
Anderson and Adams each had 10 points by halftime. They were a combined eight for 14 from the field. Their teammates were a combined five for 21.
Adams had missed all nine of his shots against Oregon State.
“He got back to cutting to the basket,” Alford said.
Powell said, “Kyle and Jordan helped us stay in the game. We closed it out for them.”