Gold: UCLA, USC show March attitude in January matchup
It wasn’t quite the famous thumbs up and the legendary “Heyyyyyyy!” from “Happy Days,” but Sir Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli — better known as Henry Winkler — gave a tacit sign of approval Thursday night in a legendary matchup at Pauley Pavilion.
After UCLA’s Jaylen Clark got a second chance at redemption and delivered in the clutch for UCLA, The Fonz clapped and said, “Wowie,” just about summing up one of the strangest games in the lengthy rivalry between the two Los Angeles squads.
Jaylen Clark hits a big three to give UCLA a late lead over USC. The Fonz approves. pic.twitter.com/2yy8bwAMeU
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) January 6, 2023
Clark’s 3-pointer put the Bruins up 1 with 17 seconds left, reclaiming a lead they would not relinquish in a 60-58 win over the Trojans in a matchup that proved both teams are ready for March.
If only they can put two halves together.
Just 8 minutes into what would eventually become the Bruins’ 11th straight win, it looked like there would be little doubt.
David Singleton’s 3rd 3-pointer of the game with 11:53 left in the 1st half put UCLA up 18-4, and he’d add another trey less than 3 minutes later.
The Bruins eventually went into the half up 18 points, but it didn’t even really feel that close. To that point, the team was dominating in the post and on the perimeter, claiming a notable rebounding advantage — 21-13, including 9-2 on the offensive glass — while shooting 7-7 from 3-point range.
And it wasn’t just the stat sheet.
Freshman Adem Bona was an absolute nightmare on defense for the Trojans: long, rangy, active. After scoring a season- and career-high 18 points on Jan. 1 in a win over Washington, he carried a ton of confidence into the game and it showed.
Block of the season? pic.twitter.com/t5aE4uGKjM
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) January 6, 2023
Meanwhile, Tyger Campbell added a pair of 3-pointers and Jaylen Clark had 12 points and the Bruins backcourt stifled USC’s Drew Peterson and Boogie Ellis while forcing 7 turnovers.
“It embarrassed me as a head coach,” USC’s Andy Enfield told reporters after the game. “To come out in a rivalry game and be down 18 at halftime, to give the effort we gave, it was embarrassing for all of us.”
Only it would be UCLA’s Mick Cronin who was red-faced after the game.
For 20 minutes, UCLA looked like a Final Four squad once more, even at the expense of an 11-4 USC team.
Lest we forget — this is a Trojans squad that has won 73 games over the last three years, among the most in the country, with 25 wins in 2020-21 and 26 wins last season.
At some point, Cronin knew they were going to turn it on. And it didn’t take long.
“We started the half, missed the steal, missed the loose ball and got out of the way of a charge — six points to start the half,” said Cronin, looking as frustrated as a coach can look. “I knew it was coming, too. Couldn’t stop it. All I talked about at halftime was we need to worry about defense. I saw it coming in the first half — we took some shots that were just ridiculous when we had a chance to bury them. A lot of selfish shots.”
With their offense stalling early, the Trojans went small, sending starting center Joshua Morgan to the bench, and little by little, USC chipped away at UCLA’s lead after Bona hit a pair of free throws to put the Bruins up 50-34 with 15:52 left in the game.
Kobe Johnson and reserve spark plug Reese Dixon-Waters combined to score 8 quick points, followed by a Harrison Hornery 3-pointer at the 10-minute mark that cut UCLA’s lead to 50-45.
Andy Enfield on Harrison Hornery in the second half: “I feel like he played great basketball, he was so tough defensively… showed how smart he is”
— Annenberg Media Sports (@ANNMediaSports) January 6, 2023
At that point, the Bruins hadn’t scored in nearly six minutes, and it would be another 3:39 until they finally would put it in the basket again on a Jaime Jaquez Jr. layup.
After trading blows, USC once again gained the momentum late, with Dixon-Waters’ jumper — his team-high 15th and 16th points of the game — giving the team its first lead since 2-0 with a 58-56 advantage with 36 seconds left.
Just 19 seconds later, Clark would miss a 3-pointer, get the ball back off an offensive rebound pass from David Singleton, and hit what would be the game-winner.
It was enough to make The Fonz clap with glee, but but Cronin sure wasn’t satisfied.
When asked if the resolve to pull out victory from the jaws of defeat left him happy, Cronin was curt.
“Do I look happy?” he said. “No reconciliation.”
This was no moral victory for Bruins, who were outscored 32-16 in the 2nd half, one of their worst halves in the Cronin Era. This was not a growth opportunity, he insisted.
“No. No. No,” he said. “You can grow the wrong way. You’ve got guys playing selfish, not worried about defense, taking bad shots, letting teams back in the game. You can grow from it. You can grow to the bench.”
Enfield, on the other hand, insisted it was a teachable moment.
Either way — lessons learned or not — it’s clear both teams are going to be playing well into March.