Not the ideal regular-season ending for USC: Takeaways from loss to rival UCLA

USC guard Reese Dixon-Waters shoots as UCLA guard Jules Bernard and center Myles Johnson defend.
USC guard Reese Dixon-Waters shoots as UCLA guard Jules Bernard, left, and center Myles Johnson defend during the second half on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA won 75-68.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It has been over a year since USC last lost two games in a row and even longer — three years, five days, to be exact — since the Trojans were bested by their rival Bruins. But both streaks came to a chaotic conclusion Saturday in another rousing rendition of the crosstown rivalry, one that begs for a Pac-12 tournament redux Friday in Las Vegas.

For USC, it wasn’t the ideal ending it might have envisioned to an otherwise record-breaking regular season. Its streak over UCLA had been a major point of pride, a bright neon sign announcing USC’s arrival as an equal Pac-12 contender. Until Saturday, UCLA coach Mick Cronin had never bested USC’s Andy Enfield, his crosstown counterpart.

That changed Saturday in a tidal wave of Trojan turnovers and Jaime Jaquez Jr.‘s jumpers. Now, the Trojans will drag a different sort of streak to the Vegas Strip this week.


“We know what’s at stake,” Enfield said. “We think we can win the Pac-12 tournament if we play well. We could also lose in the first round if we don’t play well. This team had an exceptional year. We’re 25-6. 25-6. What am I going to say? Set the school record for wins in the regular season. Yeah, we lost to UCLA and we lost two in a row to a very good Arizona team. But we’re 25-6.”

UCLA’s hard-fought victory over a resilient USC team shows the Bruins are in a prime spot to be dancing deep into the NCAA tournament once again.

March 6, 2022

Here’s what we took away from USC’s 75-68 loss to UCLA:

Turnovers turned the tide.

Thirty-one seconds remained and USC was down only four when Drew Peterson spotted Max Agbonkpolo open in the corner. A three-pointer would mean a new lease on life for USC, which had somehow stayed alive this long in spite of its many self-inflicted wounds. But as Agbonkpolo lifted off for a potentially game-changing shot, his heels touched the out-of-bounds line.

USC’s 15th turnover of the game was perhaps its most demoralizing, all but ending any hope of stealing a sixth straight win from UCLA. But the other 14 were just as consequential on Saturday in that they represented a vast chasm in turnover margin that USC simply couldn’t overcome.

UCLA committed only a single turnover in its win Saturday, a historic total that’s difficult just to wrap one’s mind around. And although USC was able to cash in a three-pointer off that lone traveling violation, UCLA scored 21 points off Trojan turnovers.

“Turnovers are a part of the game,” Enfield said, “but it can’t be 15-1, especially on the road.”


Those issues began early as loose balls and errant passes piled up. A punishing few possessions from UCLA’s defense led to two shot clock violations over five minutes in the first half. In the second half, USC went four minutes with only one shot attempt thanks to a series of turnovers. UCLA went on a 9-0 run from there and never looked back.

USC forward Chevez Goodwin and UCLA guard Tyger Campbell grapple for the ball as guard Jules Bernard watches.
USC forward Chevez Goodwin and UCLA guard Tyger Campbell, left, grapple for the ball as guard Jules Bernard watches during the second half on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

USC has plenty of close-game experience. It didn’t matter this time. But it could in the NCAA tournament.

As Isaiah Mobley careened through the lane with just over a minute remaining, finishing at the rim through contact to cut UCLA’s lead to two points, it was impossible not to wonder if we were about to witness yet another daring escape from USC in a season full of them.

It didn’t work out that way this time, even as the Bruins gave the Trojans every possible opportunity late to extend their win streak to six. UCLA missed 10 shots in a row and didn’t score from the field for nearly eight minutes, subsisting instead on free throws while USC rapidly closed the gap.

But USC couldn’t close the deal. In the final minute, Mobley missed a jump hook a few feet from the basket. Reese Dixon-Waters and Boogie Ellis missed late three-pointers. The only clutch shot late came from UCLA’s Cody Riley, whose turnaround jumper with 55 seconds left wound up deciding the game.


“Those are crucial shots,” Enfield said. “You’re not going to win a game on the road if you’re down three to four points without making those shots.”

They have made those shots plenty of times this season. In the last month alone, the Trojans made a buzzer beater to beat Washington State, fended off Oregon to win by one, bested Oregon State in double overtime, mounted a comeback to put down Pacific, and held off UCLA at home.

USC is 9-1 in games decided by five points or fewer, a mark that will still matter when the pressure is at its highest in the postseason.

Jaquez explodes, and Peterson stays quiet

UCLA center Myles Johnson tries to knock the ball from the hands of USC guard Drew Peterson.
UCLA center Myles Johnson tries to knock the ball from the hands of USC guard Drew Peterson during the second half on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Last month, when these two teams met at Galen Center, Drew Peterson had the game of his life, scoring 27 points and reeling in 12 rebounds, and added five blocks and four assists.


On Saturday, Jaime Jaquez returned the favor, torching the Trojans with his own stunning stat line. Jaquez carried UCLA’s offense on his back much in the same way Peterson did in their last meeting, scoring 27 to go with six rebounds and four assists.

“He hit open shots,” USC point guard Boogie Ellis said of Jaquez. “Last game, we were underneath him and we made everything tough. I feel like this game, he had a lot of easy shots. We just have to do a better job with that. We’ll see them again, we’ll make it tougher.”

UCLA certainly made life tougher on Peterson, who was swallowed up by a UCLA defense determined to limit any extra space he might operate in. He still had 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but Peterson also led the Trojans with three turnovers.

No. 17 UCLA ended its five-game losing streak to rival USC in a rambunctious and noisy Pauley Pavilion, and now both teams must shift focus to the Pac-12 tournament.

March 5, 2022

Either Washington or Utah awaits in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. Is a rematch with UCLA and/or Arizona in the cards?

In three games this season against their two prospective tournament opponents, USC has won by 10 points or more all three times. None of the three games were even particularly close.

A victory is hardly assured, but an immediate exit would be especially disastrous for USC, considering the note its regular season ended on. More than likely, we’ll get a crosstown rubber match to decide where the season series stands.


How USC responds in that scenario will say a lot about where it’s headed this postseason. In eight tries under Enfield, the Trojans have won two games in the Pac-12 tournament only one time. Last March, it took overtime just to scrape past Utah, before Colorado beat USC in the semifinals.

“We’re 0-0 now. So none of that matters,” Ellis said. “We’ve got a fresh start.”