UCLA Eliminates USC, Reaches Pac-12 Championship Game – Press Enterprise

LAS VEGAS — The two regular-season games between UCLA and USC were close affairs, with each team coming back on comeback attempts only to be hampered in the last minute or seconds.

But when the two rivals met for a rubber match in a Pac-12 tournament semifinals in Las Vegas on Friday, the second-placed Bruins left little doubt about the outcome, beating No. 3 USC with a 69-59 win.

The Bruins were led by their three hot-shooting guards, with Jaime Jaquez scoring 19 points and Jules Bernard and Tyger Campbell adding 15 and 14, respectively. Guard Boogie Ellis tied his career high at 27 to lead the Trojans.

UCLA (25-6) takes on top seed Arizona (30-3) in the title game at 6 p.m. Saturday, the Bruins’ first appearance in the championship game since 2014.

“That’s what we’re all working for, trying to get that trophy and cut the nets,” Jaquez said. “So we’re all excited, we’re ready to go.”

USC (26-7) returns to Los Angeles to await his seeding for the NCAA Tournament on Pick Sunday after losing three of four — two to UCLA and one to Arizona — to end the season.

“We know the stakes on the track,” said USC guard Drew Peterson. “We’re going to stay confident, we’re going to be in the gym and we’re going to be ready to go.”

Friday’s performance was a Bruins masterclass in doing business. There was little Flash, no clear standout player in the game, no decisive run to end the game. But UCLA led for all but 3:29 of the 40 minutes.

UCLA played a suffocating defense, keeping USC at 39.6% shooting from the floor. When the Trojans responded with better second-half shooting, UCLA upped their game and scored 54.5% over the period. The Bruins limited errors and rotated the ball just nine times while making 17 of 21 free throws.

The start of the game was eerily similar to last week’s matchup between the Crosstown rivals at Pauley Pavilion. Both teams started hot off the field and played at a frenetic pace before the Trojans went into a deep goal drought, with several stretches lasting several minutes with no points or a field goal.

The UCLA defense was everywhere, from Myles Johnson – who was drafted into the starting lineup – who smashed away a Chevez Goodwin hookshot on the rim to Bernard ripping the ball away when Isaiah Mobley tried to pass it while he was playing the guard shielded.

When the first half was over, the UCLA fraternity was able to yell “air-ball” at three USC players — Mobley, Peterson and Ellis all failed to draw irons.

“Defensively, I found it the best we haven’t played in a while,” said UCLA head coach Mick Cronin. “Those who defend themselves always have a chance.”

And Campbell was hot early. He quickly got a layup on a drive, then dumped a 3-pointer and stuck out three fingers on his knuckle as he ran across the court. He made three of four 3-pointers in the first half as UCLA built an 11-point lead.

Despite their offensive struggles, USC was still able to shoot the ball well from 3-point range and took a 5-12 lead in the first half. Ellis knocked down his first two tries and turned to howl at his own bench as he ran up the pitch after the second. Those looks helped USC stay within eight at halftime.

But freshman Peyton Watson helped UCLA pull back out. After the Trojans got within four, the Long Beach Poly product rattled its own mini 7-0 run. First, he threw the ball to Johnson near the end of the shot clock for a layup. At the other end, he blocked a Kobe Johnson layup before hitting a second chance floater and a 3-pointer to extend UCLA’s lead back to 11.

He also made some rookie mistakes, like traveling on an Iso attempt and a moving screen on consecutive possessions. But it was a boost for UCLA as they won their eighth game in nine tries.

Ellis did his best to keep the Trojans – without a key reserve Reese Dixon-Waters (bar) – in play. At the end of the game, he spent every dead ball with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath after another wild swipe at the rim.

“I was just trying to do whatever it took to help my team win the game,” Ellis said.

But he wasn’t getting nearly enough help. Just five Trojans scored, and Peterson was the only other in double figures with 11. Mobley fought for the second straight game, shooting 4 to 11 from the field and missing all four 3-point attempts. And USC only recorded six assists in the game.

“We need more overall support so we can reach our potential offensively,” said USC head coach Andy Enfield. “Unfortunately we couldn’t keep up, even though it was a game with few goals.”

Instead, it was UCLA that got away with the season win against the Trojans, although that wasn’t necessarily a priority for the Bruins after the game.

“We’re just worried about tomorrow,” Campbell said. “Win tomorrow, come out, give everything we have.”


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