USC men’s basketball falls to UCLA in the Pac-12 tourney

first_imgWith 12 seconds left on the clock in Las Vegas, sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright tossed up a 3-pointer. The ball sailed in an arc and swished definitively. It was exactly what the Trojans needed, but the shot summed up the game for the Trojans — too little, too late.In the teams’ third meeting of the season, the Trojans fell 76-74 to the UCLA Bruins on Thursday night in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The night was highlighted by an 18-point performance from junior point guard Jordan McLaughlin, but poor shooting and tough defense from UCLA kept the Trojans from ever taking the lead.The Trojans began with one of their slowest starts of the season, missing their first 10 shots from the field. UCLA took advantage of the offensive drought, leaping out to a 14-3 lead. For the first 10 minutes, the Trojan offense looked lost against the UCLA zone.“Our best players didn’t play very well in those stretches,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “Our starting lineup has to do a better job. You can’t just go 0-for-8 or 0-for-9. Our starters have to do much better or they won’t be starting much longer.”A rhythm developed slowly under the leadership of junior guard Elijah Stewart, who came off of the bench to lead the Trojans in a first half comeback. While the Bruins had the chance to put the Trojans away early in the half, they also struggled from the field, shooting 45 percent in the first half.Although the Bruins led by as much as 12 points, the the Trojans continued to chip at that lead. Key 3-pointers from Boatwright, freshman guard Jonah Mathews and Stewart gave the team scattered bursts of life.The Trojans’ increased success in outside shooting was not matched, however, in the paint. The presence of sophomore forward Chimezie Metu was missed throughout the first half as he fought against the UCLA big men in the post. Typically a team leader, Metu didn’t net a single basket in the first half. In the paint, he was terrorized by the likes of UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball and UCLA center Thomas Welsh, struggling to work through blocks and double teams. Even when he was fouled, Metu couldn’t get a basket to drop from the free throw line, and his lack of offensive production was felt heavily by the Trojans.After finding a rhythm and pulling within 3 points toward the end of the first half, the Trojans stumbled again at the opening of the second half. Metu finally notched his first basket of the half, but the Bruins proceeded to open up a 9-0 run that sent the Trojans reeling.Again, the main obstacle for USC was finishing from both behind the arc and underneath the basket. The team finished shooting at 38.7 percent, but at times in the second half that percentage was as low as 30 percent. The Bruins weren’t much better off, finishing at 41.2 percent from the field, but their ability to capitalize on USC mistakes kept them steadily ahead.“We’re streaky,” Enfield said. “We’re a streaky team offensively. When we get it going, we can score a lot of points in bunches. We’re not turning the ball over. We missed some easy shots tonight, but we’re playing solid basketball at both ends.”The Trojans launched another comeback late in the second half, kick started by the catalyst of a perfectly timed pass from McLaughlin that Stewart slammed down for an alley-oop and a foul. Stewart followed the play with a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 2 points at 71-69. From there, the Trojans continued to pressure the Bruins but could never overcome the 2-point deficit mark. With a minute left, the scoreboard read 74-71 with the ball in the Trojans’ hands. Boatwright saw a perfect opportunity to tie from the top of the arc and took it, but the ball ricocheted off the rim. Stewart was forced to use his fifth foul to stop the clock, and then the Bruins took a 5-point lead.The next time down the court, Boatwright knocked down the shot. But with four seconds on the clock, there wasn’t enough time for the Trojans to react. The final buzzer sounded and the Bruins escaped the second round of the Pac-12 tournament.Now, the Trojans wait for Selection Sunday to determine if and when they will play in the NCAA tournament. Questions were raised in past weeks about the Trojans’ ability to make the tournament, but definitive wins against Washington and Washington State quelled some of those concerns. Despite Thursday’s loss, Enfield believes that his team will be equipped and ready for the big dance.“Our staff is extremely proud of our players to be here where we are right now and to compete against the best teams in the country,” Enfield said. “We’re gonna lay it on the line and do our best.”last_img read more

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