UCLA fights off USC comeback to extend winning steak to 11

If you don’t succeed at first, put the ball back in Jaylen Clark’s hands.

With his team on the brink of an epic collapse in the last minute against their arch-rival and poorly overplayed the entire second half, the UCLA junior guard was open to a three-pointer.

He missed.

When Clark’s shot ricocheted off the rim, the Bruins were two points behind USC with 19 seconds left and the sold-out crowd at the Pauley Pavilion grew uneasy at the prospect of the home side losing a game they started the second half with had led 18 points.

The Bruins would get another shot at redemption courtesy of senior guard David Singleton, who snatched the rebound and immediately supplied Clark for another open look from beyond the three-point arc. Without hesitation, Clark got up to try again.

“When I saw David had it,” Clark later said, “I knew it was on my mind before I even realized it.”

His vision came true. Clark’s second shot went through the net with 15 seconds left, the celebrity-filled crowd roared and 10th-ranked UCLA held on to a 60-58 win Thursday night that could be called the Great Escape after Boogie Ellis’ baseline jumper at the Summer was wrong.

“We were lucky and walked away with a win,” said Clark, who led the Bruins (14-2 overall, 5-0 Pac-12 Conference) with 15 points, “but it’s not an accomplishment we’re really proud of .”

In the second half, the Trojans grew small, relying on a teeming defense that kept UCLA scoreless for eight minutes. The Trojans rallied furiously, thanks in large part to the efforts of sixth man Reese Dixon-Waters. His 12 second-half points equaled UCLA’s total in the first 19 minutes and 45 seconds before Clark made his three and Singleton added a free throw.

“We had to match their energy,” said Dixon-Waters, whose hookshot gave the Trojans a 58-56 lead with 32 seconds remaining. “We came out slow and lethargic in the first half so we had to adjust their energy and their intensity on offense and defense. Just ball movement and open shots.”

USC guard Boogie Ellis drives past UCLA forward Adem Bona in the first half at Pauley Pavilion.

USC guard Boogie Ellis (5) drives past UCLA forward Adem Bona (3) during the first half at Pauley Pavilion Thursday.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

One by one after Clark’s threesome, Clark thought the Trojans were returning to Dixon-Waters. You never had the chance. Called out for an illegal screen on Clark with seven seconds left, Ellis doubled in disappointment after Ellis missed a box-out on Singleton’s rebound.

The Trojans then quickly fouled Singleton, who converted one of two free throws to extend his team’s lead to two points before Ellis’ final shot fell short.

Singleton and Jaime Jaquez Jr. each scored 12 points for the Bruins, who extended their winning streak to 11 games despite being overtaken by 50% in the second half to 22.7% while also losing the rebound fight by three.

UCLA Coach Mick Cronin was visibly upset by his team’s massive disappointment and addressed his players briefly after the game. Cronin told Clark that it took courage to take the final shot and that he was proud of him, before letting assistant coach Rod Palmer do the rest of the talking.

But Cronin had a lot to say a few minutes later while meeting with reporters.

“I saw it coming in the first half, guys,” Cronin said. “We took some shots that were just ridiculous for no reason when we had the chance to bury them. We took a lot of selfish shots. And then they made adjustments.”

Dixon-Waters finished the game on 16 points and made all seven shots for the Trojans (11-5, 3-2), whose 44-26 halftime deficit was their widest of the season, as well as a late-night wake-up call.

“It was awkward in the first half,” said USC coach Andy Enfield. “It was embarrassing for me as a head coach. Coming out in a rivalry game and being down 18 at half-time to give the effort we put in was embarrassing for all of us.

The humiliation belonged to UCLA in the second half… before the closing sequence.

“We just let them score us,” said Jaquez, who missed several layups and blocked two shots in four minutes by USC reserve Harrison Hornery. “I mean, it really is that simple. We didn’t get to our places, the boys couldn’t open the door. We couldn’t finish on the edge, couldn’t take free throws. It was just a lot of things that we just didn’t do, that we normally do.”

In the end, the Bruins found a way, even if it was a win, that left their coach feeling like his team was lost. When asked how he managed to squeeze out the win while giving up such a huge lead, Cronin eyed a reporter sternly.

“Do I look happy?” said Cronin. “No reconciliation.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2023-01-05/ucla-vs-usc-basketball-game-recap UCLA fights off USC comeback to extend winning steak to 11

Emma Bowman

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