No. 17 UCLA Downs No. 16 USC, 75-68
LOS ANGELES – Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored a team-leading 27 points to lead No. 17 UCLA past No. 16 USC, 75-68, before a sellout crowd of 13,659 in Pauley Pavilion presented by Wescom on Saturday night.
The Bruins (23-6, 15-5 Pac-12) secured the No. 2 seed in next week's Pac-12 Tournament with Saturday's victory (complete tournament bracket, available here).
USC (25-6, 14-6 Pac-12) reduced the Bruins' 13-point lead to just two points with a 12-1 scoring run in the closing minutes of the second half. Cody Riley knocked down a jump shot for the Bruins with 55 seconds to go, putting UCLA ahead by a 72-68 margin.
The visiting Trojans could not convert on their next three possessions, turning the ball over and then missing a pair of 3-point attempts.
Jules Bernard, who finished with 19 points for UCLA, made three of four free throw attempts in the final 13 seconds to help seal the victory.
"I didn't like the way we finished the game," said Mick Cronin, The Michael Price Family UCLA Men's Head Basketball Coach. "We've got March coming up. I come here to try to get the 12th championship, and we had some egregious errors down the stretch where we went for rebounds instead of getting back on defense. We don't believe in giving and-ones. That's a cardinal sin on our team, if you can't foul him enough to stop the layup, you've got to let it go."
UCLA forced 15 turnovers by USC and committed one, the fewest turnovers by a Pac-12 team in a game on record. The Bruins finished Saturday's game with a 21-3 advantage in points off turnovers. UCLA totaled 15 assists, with four each from Tyger Campbell and Jaquez Jr.
Both teams started the game on fire, with each hitting their first four field goals without a miss. UCLA claimed a 10-9 lead.
The Bruins then held USC scoreless over the game's net 4:45, forcing three turnovers and expanding their lead to 16-9 before the Trojans called a timeout.
USC answered with a 9-3 scoring run, closing the gap to just one point (at 19-18).
Led by four points from Bernard, the Bruins used a 6-1 run to jump ahead by six points (at 25-19) and pushed the margin to 32-22 with 4:44 to play in the half after Bernard knocked down a 3-pointer. Johnny Juzang scored on a second-chance basket to put UCLA ahead, 36-25, with 3:05 to play in the first half (the Bruins' largest lead before halftime).
Trailing 41-35 at the half, USC came back to tie game, 47-47, on a four-point play by Boogie Ellis, who was fouled while making a 3-pointer. UCLA followed with six consecutive points to lead 53-47.
The Trojans cut the lead to one point, 53-52, on a 3-pointer by Drew Peterson. From that point, the Bruins used a 13-2 scoring run to secure a 12-point advantage (at 66-54). Jaquez Jr. had six of those Bruin points, and Campbell added two steals and Bernard one during the run.
UCLA extended its lead to 13 points (at 69-56), with 5:49 to play before the Trojans reduced UCLA's cushion to just two points (at 70-68), with a 12-1 scoring run.
The Bruins snapped a five-game losing streak against USC with Saturday night's win. In addition, the victory pushed UCLA ahead of the Trojans in the final regular-season Pac-12 standings.
UCLA has secured the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and will take on the winner of Wednesday's first-round matchup between No. 7-seed Washington State and No. 10-seed California. UCLA's quarterfinal matchup on Thursday evening will begin at 6 p.m. (PT) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.