USC guard Jio Fontan tries to strip the ball from driving UCLA guard Malcolm… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
It's back on.
A cross-town rivalry that had veered away from the city's basketball blueblood was nudged back in the other direction Wednesday night, UCLA closing the book on what USC had hoped to make a historic chapter in the series.
Thanks to an unusually inspired effort by the Bruins, you still have to go all the way back to 1943 to find a Trojans team that won at least five consecutive games against UCLA.
Freshman center Joshua Smith bounced back in a big way from the team's first meeting and the Bruins' guards badly outplayed their counterparts, helping UCLA pull away for a 64-50 victory that ended the Trojans' four-game winning streak in the series.
Smith punctuated his 15-point, six-rebound effort by wildly flapping his arms and then high-fiving teammates Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt in the final 30 seconds.
Smith was on the opposite end of a similar celebration last month at the Galen Center and voiced his displeasure with the scene afterward.
"We were excited," Smith said of the scene Wednesday. "Any time you play your rivals at home and you win, we were just [like], 'Hey, we did it.'"
USC big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds and it still wasn't enough for the Trojans, who got scant production from guards Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones. Fontan missed all five of his shots, going scoreless for the second time in three games, and Jones had only two points on one-for-four shooting.
By comparison, Malcolm Lee had 13 points, 11 in the first half, and Lazeric Jones nine for the Bruins (15-7 overall, 7-3 Pacific 10 Conference), who outrebounded the Trojans (12-11, 4-6), 39-25. Much of that discrepancy came from the second half, when UCLA had 24 rebounds to USC's 11.
Jones provided a late spark when he trailed USC's Donte Smith on a breakaway, only to catch him and block his shot.
"It was a huge play because he didn't quit, he didn't give up," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
Honeycutt missed a three-pointer on UCLA's ensuing possession, but Lee grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Lee made both free throws to give the Bruins a 57-47 lead with 4:15 remaining and energize the season-high crowd of 10,419.
Vucevic (18 points) missed several opportunities from close range in the final minutes after UCLA had stopped double-teaming the USC big man and used Nelson to guard him one on one. The frustration seemed to peak for the Trojans during one late possession in which Smith blocked a shot by Stepheson and then Honeycutt intercepted a pass by Vucevic.
"We had a little stretch there at the end when we couldn't get a basket to go down, missed a bunch of free throws," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We just don't have enough as it stands right now."
USC trailed by only one midway through the second half after Maurice Jones blew past Tyler Lamb for a layup.
But then the Bruins got rolling, Jerime Anderson making a baseline jumper and Lamb taking an over-the-shoulder pass from Honeycutt for an easy layup. When Anderson buried a fadeaway three-pointer, UCLA had a 53-45 lead and the Trojans were teetering.
It was the start of a potentially emotional but rewarding week for UCLA. On Saturday, the Bruins will play host to St. John's and former UCLA coach Steve Lavin.
UCLA hopes it has Jones after the junior guard fell on his left hand while trying to dunk over a pair of USC players. Howland said Jones probably would have X-rays on the hand.