Preview: USC at UCLA
The stakes are always high when cross-town rivals USC and UCLA square off, but Thursday’s Pac-12 game at Pauley Pavilion brings a bit of added significance. The Trojans and Bruins are tied for fifth in the conference, one game behind Utah in their bid to receive a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament with each having a road game against the Utes remaining.
UCLA is in this position thanks to sophomore guard Jaylen Hands, who scored all his career-high 27 points in the second half as the Bruins erased a 19-point deficit en route to a 90-83 victory over Oregon on Saturday. “We’ve just got to figure out, how can we package that second half,” interim UCLA coach Murry Bartow told reporters. “If we can figure out how to tie a ribbon around the second half as we move forward, then we’re a pretty good basketball team.” USC missed all six of its free-throw attempts – the first time in school history it didn’t record a point from the line – in a 67-62 loss to Oregon State on Saturday in its final home game of the regular season. The Trojans snapped a four-game losing streak in the series with an 80-67 victory Jan. 19 behind 21 points apiece from senior forward Bennie Boatwright and junior forward Nick Rakocevic.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT USC (15-13, 8-7 Pac-12): Boatwright is third in the conference in scoring (team-high 18.3 points), and is shooting 65.5 percent from 3-point range in the last three games and 58.7 percent on 46 attempts over his past six contests. Rakocevic (15.1 points) leads the Pac-12 with 13 double-doubles and is third in rebounding (team-high 9.4) but recorded only four points versus Oregon State and a total of five boards in his last two games. Freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr. (9.1 points, 4.0 rebounds) registered his first career double-double with 11 points and a personal-best 10 rebounds Saturday, and has reached double-figure scoring in three of his last four contests.
ABOUT UCLA (15-13, 8-7): Sophomore guard Kris Wilkes (team-high 17.2 points) has reached double figures in 26-of-28 games this season, with both misses coming in the last six contests, and scored 20 or more for the ninth time with 20 versus Oregon. Hands (13.5 points), who has averaged 21.4 points while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range in his last five contests, leads the Pac-12 with 6.4 assists per game. Junior guard Prince Ali (9.6 points) averaged only 3.3 points in four games before missing the last two with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
1. The Trojans lead the Pac-12 with 16.4 assists per game and are 14-0 this season when recording at least 16.
2. UCLA shot 63.6 percent from 3-point range Saturday – it’s most prolific game since shooting a school-record 76.5 percent in a 95-79 victory over Northwestern in Las Vegas on Nov. 29, 2013.
3. Boatwright, Rakocevic and junior G Jonah Mathews (12.5 points) account for 58.4 percent of USC’s points.