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Joy at last for Afflalo this time

Jump shot by junior guard with 4.7 seconds to go gives UCLA a 65-64 victory over USC after a back-and-forth final few minutes at Galen Center.

January 14, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

A 10-point, second-half deficit in a hostile, ear-splitting environment, a desperate need for a clutch, last-second basket after the opposition had surged ahead ... everything seemed painfully familiar for UCLA on Saturday afternoon.

Everything except the ending.

With his team longing for the heroics he couldn't provide last week against Oregon, Bruins junior guard Arron Afflalo coolly buried a 15-foot fadeaway jumper with 4.7 seconds left to give fourth-ranked UCLA a 65-64 victory over USC at the Galen Center.

"I met with him and said it was my fault in Eugene," Coach Ben Howland said of the Bruins' inability to get Afflalo the ball in the final seconds of a loss to the Ducks. " 'You should have taken the last shot.' "

Instead, sophomore swingman Josh Shipp hoisted an off-balance three-pointer that missed, and the Bruins were no longer unbeaten and were soon to be knocked off their perch atop the national rankings.

But with Shipp sidelined by a hamstring injury Saturday, there was no doubt where the ball was going in the final seconds, the Bruins trailing by a point and most of the crowd of 9,682 imploring the Trojans to make one last stop.

USC's Lodrick Stewart got a hand in Afflalo's face but could only join his teammates in dismay as the ball sank through the net.

"After he hit that shot, I felt like Adam Morrison in the playoffs," said Trojans swingman Nick Young, who led USC with 14 points. "I wanted to just stand there and cry."

Only seconds before, the Galen Center had been enveloped in bedlam.

Young had completed an improbable seven-point USC rally in a span of 29 seconds when he converted a four-point play to give the Trojans a 64-63 lead with 22.9 seconds to go.

UCLA center Lorenzo Mata had given the Bruins a seemingly comfortable 63-57 advantage on a put-back with 51 seconds to play.

But after USC junior guard Gabe Pruitt made a three-pointer, Mata missed a pair of free throws and Trojans senior center Abdoulaye N'diaye grabbed the rebound.

USC worked the ball to Young, who came off a pick from freshman forward Taj Gibson and buried a three-pointer from the corner while being fouled by Darren Collison.

Young made the free throw, ending a string of three consecutive misses by a Trojans team that had entered the game making 72.3% of its foul shots but would make only seven of 14 against the Bruins.

Though Afflalo's basket quieted the crowd, USC had one final chance with 4.7 seconds remaining. But UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute tipped Gibson's inbounds pass in the backcourt, forcing precious time off the clock.

"When I got the ball and I turned around and looked, I had 1.2 seconds left and it was tough to get down close enough to get a good shot off," Pruitt said.

Pruitt's desperation heave from just inside half court was well short at the buzzer, and the player who did not participate in the Trojans' upset over the Bruins last season at the Sports Arena because of injury collapsed to the court, inconsolable.

"I've never beat UCLA," Pruitt said later. "It's a tough loss."

USC (13-5 overall, 3-2 Pacific 10 Conference) led most of the game and had a 10-point cushion with 10:55 remaining before losing in eerily similar fashion to the way the Trojans had against Washington State, when they let an 11-point, second-half lead slip away.

"We lost focus for about 10 minutes," Stewart said. "We still should have won the game."

Collison and Afflalo did most of their damage in the second half, with Collison scoring 12 of his career-high 17 points and Afflalo scoring 13 of his 15 points after intermission. While UCLA shot only 38.6% for the game, the Bruins (15-1, 4-1) outrebounded USC, 37-30, and committed only two of their 12 turnovers in the second half.

"We definitely felt like underdogs, you know, missing Josh and being in a new atmosphere," Collison said. "I think that was a plus for us."

So was having Afflalo, who wanted a more upbeat ending for the Bruins.

"He wanted the last shot last week in Oregon and he was a little upset about that," Collison said. "This time he got it."

*

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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