USC basketball extended their winning streak over crosstown UCLA to four games, defeating the No. 8 Bruins 84-76 at the Galen Center.
The lowdown: Though things started brightly for USC as Elijah Stewart forced a turnover on UCLA’s first possession, the Bruins stunned the Galen Center crowd by starting the game on an 8-0 tear.
The Trojans responded with back-to-back three pointers from Stewart and Melton to launch themselves back into the game.
UCLA surged back ahead, taking a 20-10 lead, but again USC responded cutting it to a four-point deficit as De’Anthony Melton knocked down a three to stem the bleeding, Jordan McLaughlin drove to the basket for a lay up and Stewart converted one of two free throws after being fouled on the fastbreak.
Chimezie Metu’s putback dunk got the crowd on their feet before two Shaqquan Aaron three-pointers gave the Trojans their first lead of the night at 29-28.
Metu again made the the Galen Center erupt with an alley-oop slam which heralded an 11-0 run for the Trojans, who took a 37-28 lead with five minutes to go in the half.
Freshman bench player Harrison Henderson’s three-pointer to go up 47-36 sent the Trojan bench into a frenzy, one which was only magnified when Stewart beat the halftime buzzer on a long three-pointer.
USC went into the half with their largest lead of the game, 50-38.
With the second half underway, the Trojans picked up where they left off. Stewart knocked down a pair of three while Metu upped the ante on his previous slam with an even more impressive alley-oop dunk putting USC up 58-45.
The Trojans shooting went cold as the midway point of the half neared, missing five consecutive three-point attempts, but UCLA was unable to take advantage until Bryce Alford’s triple drew them within six points at the 10 minute mark.
When USC found their stroke, Aaron and McLaughlin hit three-balls to give the Trojans some cushion at 66-59 with seven minutes to go.
Stewart and Metu took turns adding to the Trojan highlight reel. First Stewart went up high for an emphatic putback slam. Then Metu followed it up with a two-handed jam and three-point play.
With USC riding high, Melton hit the 14th triple of the game for the Trojans for the 74-65 lead with four minutes left.
UCLA’s shooting woes continued while Andy Enfield’s squad, nursing a nine-point lead with two minutes remaining, turned their focus towards milking the clock.
USC closed it out 84-76.
The takeaway: Considering USC’s form, going 4-4 in Pac-12 play since New Years’ eve and UCLA’s quick start, it looked like the Trojans were dead in the water from the start.
However, energetic defense and hot-shooting helped USC surge ahead, making their run early enough to take control of the game, rather than leaving it until late as they did against Arizona before coming up short.
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Shooting contributions from Stewart and Aaron were key, but the freshman Melton’s energy on the defensive end sparked the Trojans more than the flurry of slam dunks at the Galen Center.
Now 18-4 on the season, USC has a signature win for it’s NCAA Tournament resume and bragging rights in the LA basketball scene with their fourth-consecutive win over the crosstown rival.
USC’s Player of the game: De’Anthony Melton; 13 points, 4/10 FGs, 2/5 3FGs, 3/6 FTs, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 1 block.
Stat of the game: USC tied a season-high with 14 three-pointers.
Next on tap: The Trojans travel north to take on Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 1.