LOS ANGELES–With less than three minutes left in Saturday night's rivalry game in Westwood, Lonzo Ball rose out of his shoes and found his head level with the rim. The pass from Bryce Alford was a bit off, but Ball corralled it with his right hand and dunked it home with both. As he came down to a rousing cheer, all he had to do was stare into the crowd and say nothing.
He knew. They knew.
UCLA was going to blow out USC.
"It's frustrating," said forward Bennie Boatwright, who led the Trojans with 20 points. "This game was on us."
The Trojans had traveled out to Pauley Pavilion looking for coronation—their fifth win a row against their crosstown rivals. Instead, UCLA welcomed them with a more fervent desire for revenge and delivered as much in a 102-70 drubbing that handed the Trojans their sixth loss of the season, their worst defensive game of the year.
"It just snowballed," head coach Andy Enfield said postgame.
Snowballed. Exploded. Erupted. Any term would have been applicable to describe what happened in the final 10 minutes of the game where USC had cut down the UCLA lead to nine points before the Bruins rattled off a 35-12 run that turned the competitive matchup into an embarrassing result for a USC team that had just handily upset UCLA at home less than three weeks ago.
"We just weren't as active," point guard Jordan McLaughlin explained. "Last game, we were super active on defense, had our hands everywhere and tipped a lot of passes."
Albeit a technical foul called on Enfield, the waning moments of the game and the moments that followed the buzzer, didn't bring about anger from the USC side. Instead, it was resignation and realization that they had simply been outplayed. And especially out-shot.
"Some guys just got really hot in the second half," Shaqquan Aaron said. "They hit some really tough shots, and we were on the wrong end."
The Bruins brought the loud and packed house down time after time, as seemingly every shot they took—be it from the outside or at the rim—went in with ease. UCLA made more than half of their field goals and made exactly half of their 20 threes. A recipe for success as clear as the no-longer-rainy-filled Southern California sky over Westwood Saturday.
USC didn't have an answer. And so, they tried to manufacture one.
Because their defense could not do enough to extinguish the fire that was colored blue and gold on Saturday, USC tried to match UCLA shot for shot.
"When UCLA scores the basketball, you have to be able to score with them," Enfield said.
But bad shots, forced three-pointers and off-balance midrange jumpers only put the Trojans into a bigger hole they couldn't climb out of. The result: 34% shooting from the field and 32% shooting behind the arc.
The salt in the wound? Of their 27 trips to the free-throw line, USC missed eight and at moments where they could have cut the lead to seven. To counter, UCLA only shot eight from the stripe and made them all.
Boatwright was perhaps the sole exception to the disappointing shooting night the Trojans had. The sophomore made four threes and all of his free-throws. "Someone had to score," Enfield said matter-of-factly postgame.
But the offensive burden on Boatwright was too much, especially when UCLA had five players in double-figures to USC's two.
Afterward, all Boatwright and company wanted to talk about, however, was the defense.
"Defensively, we weren't on track tonight," Boatwright said. "We were asleep."
Despite UCLA unconscious shooting night, USC lost the game in the paint as much as it lost it from behind the arc. The Bruins outrebounded the Trojans 50-33. They scored more than twice as many second-chance points and found an edge by scoring 44 points in the paint to USC's 28.
Easy layup after easy layup, UCLA subsided USC's attempts to try and get back into the game repeatedly. And when they had finally started to pull away for good, it would be Bryce Alford who would lay the nail in the coffin with authority and explode for five straight makes and a game-high 26 that included a couple of threes that sent the home crowd into a frenzy as well as USC back home with a loss that gives them plenty to think about.
"We're gonna learn from it," Aaron assured.
Though the overall disappoint from players, coaches and fans is warranted, it's also expository of how advanced the expectations for this USC team are. UCLA is one of the best teams in the country and arguably possess the best offense in the country. Getting blown out is not a good look for the Trojans, but in the grand scheme of things a regular season split with the Bruins is more of a moral victory than a tough pill to swallow.
Come March and the Pac-12 Tournament, both teams will be angling to face each other again and break this season's tie.