UCLA rallies to beat USC 87-72, earns Pac-12 tourney bye
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Down to its last regular season game, UCLA needed a win to avoid playing a day early in the Pac-12 tournament and gain a resume-building road victory against a good team.
Aaron Holiday scored 34 points, Kris Wilkes added 22 and UCLA rallied over the final eight minutes to beat Southern California 83-72 on Saturday night and complete a season sweep in the crosstown rivalry.
“It puts us in a great situation,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “Now we get a little bit more rest.”
The Bruins earned a bye for next week’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. They finished in a tie with Stanford and Utah for third in the league. The Utes earned the No. 3 seed based on a combined 2-1 record against the Cardinal and Bruins.
UCLA, which split the season series with Stanford, clinched the No. 4 seed on the strength of its victory over league champion Arizona. The Cardinal fell to the fifth seed.
Holiday and Wilkes notched career highs while engineering the Bruins’ comeback and stopping their two-game skid. UCLA (20-10, 11-7 Pac-12) trailed by eight early in the second half after being down 10 in the first half.
“I’m glad we worked together as a team and got this win,” Wilkes said. “When we play together as a team, anything is possible.”
The Trojans (21-10, 12-6) had already clinched second place in the league for the first time since 2002. Their four-game winning streak ended.
“This game won’t define our season because UCLA played extremely well,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said. “They played exceptional basketball on the offensive end and we missed a lot of easy shots. We missed a lot of open 3s and a lot of shots at the rim. So we’ll give UCLA credit because they certainly outplayed us in the last 10 minutes.”
Jordan McLaughlin led USC with 19 points while playing 38 minutes, Chimezie Metu had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Elijah Stewart added 12 points.
“You don’t want to lose. Especially against a rival. Senior night, too,” said McLaughlin, one of three seniors along with Stewart who was honored before the game.
Holiday’s basket tied the game at 60-all. USC led just once after that and got outscored 23-12 over the final eight minutes. The Trojans were held to just two field goals in that stretch.
“We just couldn’t get stops,” McLaughlin said.
Playing all 40 minutes, Holiday scored UCLA’s last nine points to finish off the sweep. The Bruins won 82-79 on Thomas Welsh’s 3-pointer at UCLA on Feb. 3.
UCLA guard Jaylen Hands sat out with a sprained right ankle that he sustained in practice. The freshman is averaging 10.5 points and 2.8 assists and had started the last nine games.
3-0 AGAINST THE BEST
The Bruins went 3-0 against Arizona and USC, the league’s top two teams. They upset the Wildcats in Tucson and swept the Trojans. “Every win gives us confidence that we can beat the next team,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes got five stiches on his upper lip after accidentally being head-butted by teammate Prince Ali at the end of the first half.
USC: The Trojans have won 20 or more games for the third straight season. They did so despite being caught up in the FBI investigation involving corruption in college basketball that saw assistant Tony Bland let go after his arrest and guard De’Anthony Melton held out all season until he announced he was leaving school on Feb. 21. They also lost second-leading scorer and rebounder Bennie Boatwright, who was injured Feb. 18 and is out for the rest of the season.
UCLA: After a shoplifting incident that led to the suspension of three players to start the season, the Bruins went 11-3 in the early going. They struggled at times once league play began, but now head into the postseason with some momentum.
USC opens Pac-12 tournament play on Thursday in Las Vegas as the No. 2 seed. The Trojans play the winner of seventh-seeded Washington and No. 10 Oregon State.
UCLA heads to Vegas as the No. 4 seed. The Bruins play the winner of fifth-seeded Stanford and No. 12 California on Thursday.
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