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UCLA Defends Its Turf

College basketball: Bruins almost let 19-point lead get away in second half, but Knight's block helps seal the victory.


It wasn't a cold spell. More like an ice age.

Somehow, UCLA survived.

The Bruins built a 19-point lead in the second half against No. 19 USC on Thursday, then barely held on for an 80-75 victory before a deafening crowd of 12,109 at Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA won despite making only two shots from the floor in the final 11:26, a drought that allowed the Trojans to barge their way back into the game.

"We played very poorly down the stretch," UCLA Coach Steve Lavin said. "We reverted to some of the bad shot selection that hurt us earlier in the season. We settled for too many quick threes early in the possession. We've got to do a better job of being aware of time and score."

Regardless, the Bruins constructed a large enough lead to hang on for their fourth consecutive victory and sixth in seven games. They improved to 8-4 and 3-0 in Pacific 10 Conference play.

USC (12-3, 2-1) made an impressive enough comeback, but it was hardly enough to please Coach Henry Bibby.

"Almost is not good enough," said Bibby, who is 1-8 against UCLA. "We got too far down. We basically had one guy who came to play."

That guy was forward Sam Clancy, who contributed 31 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. He made all 10 of his shots in the second half.

After scoring on 11 of their first 22 possessions in the second half, the Bruins scored on two of their final 19.

USC, which turned over the ball a season-high 28 times, owned the Bruins on the boards, 43-30. That was UCLA's worst rebounding deficit of the season.

The game's final seconds had everyone on their feet. With less than a minute remaining and UCLA protecting a 78-75 lead, forward Matt Barnes missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.

Moments later, sharpshooting USC forward Brian Scalabrine was pulling up for a three-pointer that would have forged a tie. He missed, but Clancy grabbed the rebound and fired a pass to David Bluthenthal, who was in three-point range and just in front of the Trojan bench.

Bluthenthal tried to get a shot off, but it was blocked by Billy Knight. UCLA's Jason Kapono came down with the deflection and was fouled with 7.1 seconds to play. He made his two free throws to secure the victory.

It was the second consecutive memorable game for Knight, a reserve who made a trio of three-pointers against Washington last Saturday.

"I saw [Bluthenthal] hit that one three-pointer earlier, so I was like, 'Man, that's his spot, the corner,' " Knight said. "So I just ran out there, put my hand up, and he couldn't get it over my hand."

The outcome only reinforces the notion that Lavin's team is at its best when things are at their most bleak. And things have looked plenty gloomy lately, with Lavin on the hot seat and the specter of Rick Pitino lingering in the shadows.

The Trojans swaggered into Pauley--a place they have won only six times--riding their best start since 1975 and possibly on their way to their first NCAA tournament appearance in four years.

In other words, just the kind of long odds these Bruins love.

"Our main focus was 'SC," forward Matt Barnes said. "We tuned all the other outside stuff out and just played. We came out with the win. We didn't worry about Pitino, Lav, any of that. We just played."

Then came the long stretch of futility that started with Kapono's three-pointer--a shot that gave the Bruins a 71-52 lead with 11:26 to play--and lasted until Dan Gadzuric made a shot under the basket with 50 seconds remaining.

The closest USC got was three points.

"That's something we've got to work on," Barnes said. "We pretty much have a lead in every game, and we always seem to let up a little bit. We've got to get mentally tough and just put the dagger in."

The Bruins made their way to the locker room with a 46-39 halftime lead, even though Gadzuric spent all but one minute on the bench in foul trouble. He picked up his first foul 52 seconds into the game, then he and Scalabrine were immediately slapped with technical fouls for bumping chests.

Freshman T.J. Cummings came off the bench for Gadzuric, who had been red hot in his past three games. Gadzuric reentered the game with 8:12 remaining in the half, then was benched again after picking up his third foul 32 seconds later.

Cummings did an impressive job in relief, making three of four shots and each of his three free throws for nine points in the half.

UCLA: 80

USC: 75



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