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January 5, 2014

UCLA trounces USC in crosstown battle

UCLA opened Pac-12 play on Sunday afternoon with an unambiguous blowout of its crosstown rival USC, notching a season-high 107 points.

UCLA's defensive pressure overwhelmed USC at the onset, which allowed the Bruins to take an early lead in the first half. The Trojans began the game with three consecutive turnovers and committed an additional three turnovers within the first five minutes of the game.

To add to its sloppy play, USC also lost starting center Omar Oraby early in the first half when he was briefly sidelined with an injury to his foot. The 7-foot-2 senior returned later in the half but was soon sent back to the bench after picking up his second foul before the midway mark in the first.

As anticipated, the crosstown rivals ground out a physical game. Less than a minute into the contest, Oraby swung his elbow near the face of David Wear. The officials reviewed the play but didn't slap USC with a flagrant foul.

Oraby's propensity to pick up fouls later eliminated his influence on the game. He fouled out for the third time this season with 7:39 to play in the game, finishing with eight points and zero rebounds.

"With him being hurt, out of the game for a while, and then in foul trouble, that kind of eliminated the one advantage we had," USC head coach Andy Enfield said.

While it came out of the gates thriving on the defensive end, it took UCLA a little while to establish itself offensively in the first half. However, once the Bruins found their groove on the offensive end in the first, they unleashed on the Trojans.

Midway through the first half, UCLA embarked on a 20-6 run over five minutes spawned by guards Jordan Adams and Bryce Alford, who both exploded for 15 points with a trio of three-pointers in the first half. Adams finished with 21, the eighth time he's scored 20 or more this season, and Alford recorded a career-high 20 points.

"To me, it's just about reading the defense," Alford said of his performance. "Tonight, my shot was there and I hit my first one. When you're a shooter and you hit your first shot, that usually means a good thing is happening."

The Bruins then dominated the latter half of the first period, and surged to a 22-point lead, up 56-34 at the half. As the final seconds of the half ticked, Adams tipped in a miss from Zach LaVine that was originally counted but later disallowed by the officials during halftime.

Adams' effort nevertheless kept momentum in the Bruins' favor as they trotted into the locker room.

Momentum continued in UCLA's favor as the second half commenced, but USC soon thwarted UCLA's impetus with a 14-2 run over a three-minute span. Sensing his team losing control, head coach Steve Alford halted play with a timeout, which proved an effective tactic.

The Bruins then set off of on their own 19-4 run, which put them up 89-55 - a lead that proved insurmountable for the Trojans.

"When those guys are shooting the ball the way they were and are playing together, they are tough to beat," Enfield said. "I think UCLA's ability to shoot the ball rattled us a little bit in the first half. We thought they were good on film and they were even better in person."

The season-high 11,285 in attendance at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday afternoon then erupted as UCLA reached triple digits after Zach LaVine drained a triple with five minutes to play. LaVine finished with 16 points.

"The bench is very inexperienced, and yet, they've been very consistent all year," Alford said. "Zach and Bryce have been incredibly consistent all year, and Tony [Parker] … just keeps getting better and better. I think that's going to be really important for us as we move forward."

As the final minutes waned, UCLA brought on its reserves, including freshman Noah Allen, who stepped onto the court for the first time since sustaining a blow the face on November 11.

The Bruins closed out their resounding victory over their rival Trojans, 107-73, marking their highest point total of the season.

"I think a very good win makes a statement," said point guard Kyle Anderson, who tied his career-high of 23 points on Sunday. The 6-foot-9 point guard also achieved his 15th career double-double with 12 rebounds. "Fortunately, we scored a lot of points, but I think it was a very stable win [and that] sends a very good message."

"We had a lot of respect for them coming in, and for us to do the things that we were able to do to this team is very encouraging for us," Alford added.

For its second conference game, UCLA will take on the top team not only in the Pac-12 but in the entire nation, No. 1-ranked Arizona, which remains undefeated in the 2013-14 season with a 2-0 start to conference play.

"We got an undefeated team coming in and they're extremely talented," Alford said of the Bruins marquee matchup on Thursday. "So, coaches will get hard at it tonight. We're healthy and we're playing pretty good basketball going into this.

"It makes for a great atmosphere, a great game for fans, and I know our team is going to be excited about it."


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