Bruins beat Trojans, hope to win Pac-12 Tournament
March 17, 2022
UCLA Bruins forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. called their final regular season game at home with the USC Trojans, “do or die for us, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got to try to get that win.” It was a game that would decide tournament seeding for both schools and with the Bruins having lost five straight games to the Trojans, Bruin pride was on the line as well.
The losing streak was the longest in men’s basketball versus the Trojans since World War II. For Jaquez Jr., that was all he needed to know. Another loss to the Trojans was going to be unacceptable. Behind the inspired play of Jaquez Jr., the Bruins survived a late rally by the Trojans and hung on for a 75-68 victory over the Trojans at Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA.
With a loud, sellout crowd of 13,659 fans cheering the Bruins on, Jaquez Jr. led the Bruins with 27 points, adding six rebounds and four assists to his evening workload. Senior guard Jules Bernard chipped in 19 points, hitting 2 of 4 three-point field goal attempts. They were the only two Bruins in double figures.
The Bruins had prevailed in a game that was all about celebration. It was senior night for three Bruin players. Bernard, center Cody Riley, and guard David Singleton. There was also a celebration of the Bruins 1972 men’s basketball national champions, a team that went 30-0. That team was led by the National college player of the year, Bill Walton, who was also the color analyst for the nationally televised game on ESPN.
“I thought about it the whole week going into it,” Jaquez Jr. said after the game. “We’re at home, it’s our last home game, senior night. I really wanted to do whatever I could to help win for the seniors, honestly. It’s their last night here and there’s no way we were going to let it happen here on our court, against USC. So, just happy we got the win.”
The difference in the game, besides the play of Jaquez Jr. and Bernard, was the turnover margin. The Bruins had just one turnover for the entire game, while the Trojans had 15 turnovers. The 15-1 turnover margin led to 21 points off Trojan turnovers for the Bruins. The Bruins are currently ranked 4th in the nation in turnovers per game at 9.1 per game.
USC head coach Andy Enfield commented on the disciplined play of the Bruins after the game. “One turnover is a low number for sure in a college basketball game,” said Enfield. “They’re an experienced team. Very good offensively. Very efficient. A lot of isolation plays, and their one-on-one play was very good tonight. They made a lot of tough shots, and they did a good job taking care of the basketball.”
Despite the turnover advantage, the Bruins almost lost a big lead late in the game. They led 69-56 with 5:49 left in the game, when the Trojans got hot, and the Bruins turned ice cold. Behind some clutch shooting and rebounding from USC guard Drew Peterson and USC forward Isaiah Mobley, the Trojans cut the 13-point lead to just two points, 70-68, with 1:22 remaining in the game.
The Bruins defense stiffened in the final 1:22 and despite three missed free throws in the final minute of the game, two by star guard Johnny Juzang, the Bruins prevailed, 75-68. A turnaround jumper by Riley in the middle of the lane with 59 seconds remaining turned out to be the only field goal for the Bruins in the final 5:49 of the game and sealed the victory for the Bruins.
Bruins head coach Mick Cronin, despite the victory, was not pleased with the way the game ended. “To be honest with you, I didn’t like the way we finished the game,” said Cronin. “We had some egregious errors down the stretch where we went for rebounds instead of getting back on defense. We don’t believe in giving and-ones, that is a cardinal, cardinal, sin on our team, if you can't foul him enough to stop the layup, you gotta let it go.”
The Bruins and Trojans had multiple players on the Pac-12 All-Conference first team. That was announced on Tuesday. Juzang, Jaquez Jr., and point guard Tyger Campbell were all named to the first team, along with Peterson and Mobley from the Trojans. The Bruins had three players make the five player Pac-12 All-Defensive Team: Jaquez Jr., guard Jaylen Clark, and center Myles Johnson.
The Bruins finished the regular season with a 23-6 record and a 15-5 record in conference play. The victory over the Trojans clinched second place in the Pac-12 conference. The Bruins are ranked 13th in the AP poll, 11th in the NET Rankings, 10th in the Jeff Sagarin college basketball ratings and 8th in the Pomeroy college basketball ratings. The Bruins are considered one of the top teams in the nation. The Trojans finished the regular season 25-6 and had a 14-6 record in conference play. The Trojans are ranked 21st in the AP poll and are currently ranked at 34 in the Net Rankings.
Both the Bruins and the Trojans earned first-round byes for the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and will open play on Thursday. The Bruins will play the winner of No. 7 Washington State against No. 10 California. The third-seeded Trojans play either No. 6 Washington or No. 11 Utah in the quarterfinals. If both teams win, the Bruins and Trojans would likely meet in the semifinals on Friday. The final is Saturday.