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USC stretches bragging rights against UCLA with 63-52 win

Alex Stepheson helps the Trojans make it four victories in a row in the crosstown rivalry.

January 09, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • UCLA guard Jerime Anderson is fouled by USC's Donte Smith, right, as Alex Stephson (1) and Maurice Jones help on defense Sunday at the Galen Center.
UCLA guard Jerime Anderson is fouled by USC's Donte Smith, right,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

It meant more for Alex Stepheson.

USC's senior forward couldn't call Sunday night's 63-52 win over UCLA just a win, or even just a big win against a rival.

He's homegrown, a former star at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake.

Beating UCLA (9-6, 1-2 in Pacific 10 Conference), which USC (10-6, 2-1) has done four consecutive times, is beyond big.

"It means everything to us," said Stepheson, who keyed the win with 13 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. "Especially being from L.A., knowing what the rivalry is, it's huge. It's bragging rights."

Behind a roaring, Trojans-friendly sellout-crowd of 10,258, a rare occurrence at the Galen Center, USC separated itself in the second half against its cross-town foe.

USC trailed by two points at halftime, but started the second half with a 12-4 run. It was a sign of things to come.

As the game wore on, UCLA began to implode and USC got stronger.

The Bruins turned it over, and the Trojans capitalized with baskets.

UCLA failed to block out, and USC snuck in for offensive rebounds and tip-ins.

When the Bruins made a shot to stop the bleeding, the Trojans made two or three more to open the wound even more.

The crowd, nearly devoid of UCLA fans, roared and roared, and USC, wearing black jerseys against the Bruins' powder blue, toughened up and tightened its defense.

"The stretch we played in the second half toward the end was as active and as good defensively as we've been all year," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said.

UCLA shot 57% (12 of 21) in the first half, but only 26% (seven of 27) in the second. USC shot 52% (13 of 25) in the second half, scoring 20 points in the paint.

The Bruins committed eight second-half turnovers, which USC turned into 11 points.

"You can see our youth in not handling adversity when things go against us," Coach Ben Howland said.

The big-man matchup of Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic versus Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith amounted to little.

Vucevic had 20 points and Reeves had 14, but scored only two in the second half. Smith got in foul trouble and finished with eight points and three rebounds.

Stepheson guarded Smith and played just as big as the 6-foot-10, 305-pound freshman.

Playing his first game without a brace on his left hand, which Stepheson fractured in USC's opener against UC Irvine on Nov. 13, he said he played tentatively in the first half, scared someone might hit that hand.

"But I think once I got past the fear of the first half," Stepheson said, "I was able to really catch the ball, get some rebounds and get after it."

UCLA has lost two consecutive games after winning six in a row, and part of that was poor guard play.

Junior guard Lazeric Jones, playing in his first game since rupturing a tendon in his right middle finger against Washington, struggled mightily, scoring only two points and missing his seven shots.

And junior forward Tyler Honeycutt had 10 points and nine rebounds, but committed a game-high seven turnovers, many while hounded by Marcus Simmons.

Former UCLA star Tyus Edney spoke to the Bruins before the game, but what inspiration he gave them lasted only one half.

Vucevic blocked forward Brendan Lane's layup try as the buzzer sounded, punctuating the win.

USC has won six of eight, and its four-game streak over UCLA is its longest since winning four straight from 2002 to 2004.

Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this report

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