2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament

Presented by New York Life
Event: March 8-11
T-Mobile Arena | Las Vegas, NV

2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament: UCLA steps up defense to top rival USC

LAS VEGAS – The rivalry might have moved from Tinseltown to Sin City, but there was still plenty of drama and theatrics on Thursday night when No. 3 seed UCLA faced No. 6 seed USC in the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals.

It seemed every time UCLA was about to pull away and take control of the game, USC responded with a run of its own. In the end, the Bruins made enough plays to earn a 76-74 victory and advance to Friday's semifinals, where No. 2 seed Arizona awaits in the 8:30 p.m. PT / 9:30 p.m. MT matchup.

The Bruins entered the contest as the nation’s top scoring offense (91.3 ppg) and most efficient (52.6 FG%) but had to rely on a different formula to get the win. UCLA shot just 41.2 percent from the field on Thursday and had to step it up on defense against a potent USC attack.

“Second half we settled down and didn’t turn the ball over,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “We just didn’t make the shots we normally make, and we kind of got out of flow that way. But our guys did a really good job of making the plays they had to make, especially defensively.”

The Bruins’ biggest lead of the second half came at the 15:36 mark, when Isaac Hamilton hit a trifecta for three of his game-high 22 points. The two teams kept trading baskets until USC guard Elijah Stewart went on a one-man run, throwing down a half-court alley-oop despite getting fouled, before hitting another bucket and a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 71-69 with 4:23 left.

But UCLA turned up the defensive intensity and the Trojans missed their next six field-goal attempts. Senior Bryce Alford stepped up to the occasion by sinking a couple of huge free throws late before USC big man Bennie Boatwright made it interesting by hitting a 3-pointer with just 3.5 seconds left. But it proved to be futile as the Bruins held on for the victory.

“I think in early January we may not win this game because our defense is much better than what it was,” Steve Alford said. “So hopefully our guys can see that and they can build some confidence.”

Four Bruins scored in double digits, including big man Thomas Welsh, who recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Lonzo Ball, who posted 12 points, seven assists and four rebounds.

The Bruins also received a big boost from TJ Leaf, who returned after missing a game due to an ankle injury. Leaf announced his presence for the first bucket of the game, spinning past his defender and throwing down a thunderous dunk. He finished with 14 points, six rebounds and five assists while playing 33 minutes.

“Tremendous,” Alford said of Leaf’s effort.

Now the Bruins’ attention turns to Friday’s semifinal, which promises to be a doozy. Meanwhile, the Trojans have a strong resume but will still be on bubble watch come Selection Sunday.

“You saw how we played tonight, you tell me,” USC coach Andy Enfield said when asked if his team was NCAA Tournament-worthy. “I think we are a pretty good team, we have 24 wins. You don’t get 24 wins if you’re not a good team.”

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