Pac-12 Tournament: Isaac Hamilton shoots UCLA into semifinals
LAS VEGAS – The UCLA men's basketball team kept its NCAA tournament hopes alive Thursday by using a dominant first half and a career-high 36 points from guard Isaac Hamilton in a 96-70 win over USC in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
By halftime, Hamilton had 18 points and the Bruins (20-12) led 47-29 behind 58.1 percent team shooting. A day after finishing on a 21-4 run to beat Arizona State in the first round, the No. 12 seed Trojans never got the deficit closer than 13 in the second half.
"For our guys to build a good first-half lead and then to sustain that lead on a team that has been making a lot of comebacks throughout the season, we're really, really pleased," said UCLA coach Steve Alford.
That was in large part due to Hamilton's contributions. The sophomore made 13-of-17 shots, including a career-high seven three-pointers on nine attempts.
His 36 points were the most a Bruin scored all season and put him in fifth on the tournament's single-game scoring list. He came up seven points shy of former Washington State guard Klay Thompson, who had a record 43 points in a 2011 Pac-10 Tournament loss to Washington.
Alford announced after the game that Hamilton's grandmother died earlier this week, so the performance had added emotional significance.
"I just credit my teammates, just finding me," Hamilton said. "The ball was moving. I took good shots. And that's the whole point of the offense. Coach really emphasized taking good shots, and that's what I tried to do. They were falling for me."
UCLA guard Bryce Alford, who chipped in seven assists, said he was trying to feed Hamilton as often as he could.
"I knew just about any time he touched it, if he had any kind of opening, he was going to make it," he said.
Senior guard Norman Powell added 14 points and threw down a variety of one-handed dunks on a day everything came easy for UCLA, as it shot 60.3 percent and buried 12-of-20 threes.
The Bruins also dominated inside with a 50-34 advantage in points in the paint.
With its fourth consecutive win, No. 4 seed UCLA advances to Friday's semifinals, where it faces No. 1 seed Arizona (6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks) in a matchup that could make or break its chances of reaching the Big Dance. The Bruins lost to the Wildcats during their only regular season meeting, but beat the Wildcats last year in the Pac-12 Tournament title game.
A win Friday might secure UCLA an NCAA tournament bid.
"Obviously, each game you try to build that resume," Alford said. "I don't know if it's necessarily a have-to play-in game. You approach it that way. Our resume looks pretty good."
But the defending tournament champions could be without forward Kevon Looney, who had to leave Thursday's game in the first half after sustaining a facial injury and didn't return. A second team All-Pac-12 selection, Looney entered Thursday averaging 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He also made the conference's All-Freshman team, and is a projected lottery pick should he decide to enter the upcoming NBA draft.
Alford wasn't sure if Looney will be available against the fifth-ranked Wildcats.
"I really don't know. I just kept looking around and hoping that he was going to be coming back," he said. "The only word that we've got is he's gone with the doctors to check things out. It's some kind of facial injury. To what extent, we don't know yet. We're just waiting to hear word back from our UCLA doctors of what the prognosis is going to be."
[Related photos: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals]
Redshirt sophomore guard Katin Reinhardt led USC (12-20) with 20 points, while sophomore foward Nikola Jovanovic added 17 points and a team-high six rebounds. According to Statsheet.com, the Trojans were the fourth youngest team in the country and youngest among Power Five conference teams in terms of minutes played by class.
That left Enfield optimistic about the future.
"We've been so close all year long," he said. "We understand our weaknesses. We're going to have a big offseason in player development and strength training. Our young players need to put on muscle... we can't keep doing the same thing against more physical teams. We have to have some kind of comeback."
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