2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals preview: No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 6 USC
When: Thursday, March 8 at 8:30 p.m. PT / 9:30 p.m. MT
Where: Las Vegas, Nevada
LAS VEGAS – The Crosstown Showdown will make its way to Las Vegas on Thursday as Los Angeles rivals No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 6 seed USC will square off in the last quarterfinal matchup of the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
While the Bruins have climbed to a No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press top 25 poll, the Trojans have rounded into form and look to have a solid NCAA Tournament résumé. The nemeses have split their two contests so far this year, with the home team earning the victory.
“It should be a great game,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “It’s two high-powered teams, and offensively they shoot the three, they get out in transition and it should be a fun game.”
No. 3 seed UCLA (28-3 overall, 15-3 Pac-12)
You already know UCLA is going to put together some big runs. When you have a roster as talented as Steve Alford’s, it’s inevitable. Ever since suffering an 84-76 loss to the Trojans at the Galen Center on Jan. 25, the Bruins have rattled off nine straight wins.
It’s easy to make a case that the Bruins feature the NCAA’s top offense. UCLA leads the nation in scoring (91.3 ppg), field goal percentage (52.6) and assists per game (21.7). Even though the school might be natural rivals with a long history, USC forward Chimezie Metu said the Trojans will approach it as just another game.
“We’re going to come out and try to play hard and try to win the game just as we would if it were any other team in the tournament,” Metu said.
— UCLA Basketball (@UCLAMBB) March 9, 2017
Players to watch
Lonzo Ball, G, Freshman
Height/Weight: 6-6, 190
Key stats: 14.9 ppg, 7.8 apg, 6.2 rpg, 2.0 spg, 2.3 3pg
The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year has been nothing short of sensational this season for the Bruins. Ball leads the nation with 7.8 assists per game and is the player which makes UCLA go. His style of play is absolutely electric, and should be counted on to make a couple of high-energy plays throughout the game.
TJ Leaf, F, Freshman
Height/weight: 6-10, 225
Key stats: 16.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 63.0 FG%
A major part of UCLA’s turnaround has been the stellar freshman recruiting class. Leaf has been the key player in the paint for the Bruins all year, with his combination of post moves and a smooth jumper. Though he injured his ankle against Washington on Feb. 1, Leaf is expected to return for Thursday’s nightcap.
No. 6 seed USC (24-8 overall, 10-8 Pac-12)
As far as Enfield is concerned, the Trojans should be a lock to reach The Big Dance with its 24 wins and tough strength of schedule. When it comes to Thursday, USC is trying to avoid a repeat of the last meeting between the two schools, when they couldn’t keep pace with the high-octane Bruins.
“We’ve just got to play hard, be focused and locked in,” said USC guard Jordan McLaughlin. “We came out a little sluggish at the UCLA game. We played hard throughout the game, though. But we’ve just got to battle for 40 minutes, come out strong, and just try to stay on top.”
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 9, 2017
Players to watch
Bennie Boatwright, F, Sophomore
Height/weight: 6-10, 230
Key stats: 14.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.3 3pg
Boatwright is an absolute matchup nightmare for opposing teams with his shooting stroke, size and speed. He didn’t play in the first matchup against the Bruins this season but posted a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in the Feb. 18 meeting.
Jordan McLaughlin, G, Junior
Height/weight: 6-1, 180
Key stats: 12.9 ppg, 5.5 apg, 1.5 spg
The conductor of USC’s offense, McLaughlin is a hard man to cover with his speed. He’s also been an absolute menace on defense, racking up nine steals over his past two contests. Against the Huskies on Wednesday McLaughlin scored 11 points and dished out six assists.