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USC wins battle of big men against UCLA

The Trojans' Nikola Vucevic scores 20 points on nine-for-16 shooting, and Alex Stepheson has a double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds during USC's 63-52 victory over the Bruins.

January 09, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • USC forward Nikola Vucevic works against UCLA forward Reeves Nelson in the post during the first half Sunday night at the Galen Center.
USC forward Nikola Vucevic works against UCLA forward Reeves Nelson in… (Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire )

In the final seconds, USC forward Nikola Vucevic waved his arms in triumph near midcourt before stepping over to high-five Alex Stepheson.

Several feet away, UCLA's Reeves Nelson stood with his hands on his hips. Bruins center Joshua Smith could only sit and stare from the bench.

When it came to the battle of the big men Sunday night at the Galen Center, it was advantage, Trojans.

A super-sized one.

Vucevic scored 20 points on nine-for-16 shooting, and Stepheson logged a double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds during USC's 63-52 victory over the Bruins.

Vucevic scored 12 points after halftime and put an exclamation point on the Trojans' fourth consecutive triumph in the series when he blocked UCLA forward Brendan Lane's shot at the buzzer.

But that didn't irk Smith as much as the way the Trojans whooped it up on the court before time had expired.

"If you already know you're going to win the game, there's no need to celebrate like that," said Smith, who finished with eight points and three rebounds after fouling out for a second consecutive game. "Just let the clock run out."

Nelson had 14 points and eight rebounds but wore down considerably in the second half, scoring only two points.

"I was pretty tired," acknowledged Nelson, who played 17 first-half minutes, "but I thought I needed to play that many minutes in the first half because of the way the game was going."

Stepheson had USC fans roaring when he grabbed a rebound and went in for a dunk to give the Trojans a 58-50 lead.

The 6-foot-10 forward took 10 of his rebounds in the second half, including four on the offensive end.

"Me and Nik studied them real well, studied their moves, studied the way they rebound and we really just tried to take that away from them," Stepheson said. "Fortunately for us we were able to do that."

Smith shuffled on and off the floor for most of the second half after picking up his second and third fouls in the first 64 seconds after halftime.

"He's just got to learn," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said of Smith's foul trouble. "We need him in the game."

Smith started out on Vucevic before picking up a quick reaching foul. Lane then tried to defend the USC forward, and that didn't go so well.

Vucevic spun around Lane for a layup, made a baby hook and then elevated for a jump shot that gave the Trojans a 25-22 lead. Howland immediately called a timeout and put Smith back in for Lane and had Nelson guard Vucevic.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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