Still looking to secure a bid in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the USC (20-11, 9-9 Pac-12) faces crosstown rival UCLA (15-16, 6-12) in Las Vegas on Wednesday night in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The winner will go on to face Utah on Thursday night.
In head coach Andy Enfield's third season, USC is a borderline bubble team heading into March Madness. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a No.10 seed in the Midwest region, but a loss to UCLA wouldn’t do them any favors.
As the No.7 seed in the Pac-12, the Trojans drew a matchup with the No.10 seed Bruins. UCLA is in the midst of their worst season in over a decade, going 6-12 in the conference and 15-16 overall. After reaching the Sweet Sixteen in back-to-back years, the Bruins won’t make the Big Dance without winning the Pac-12 Tournament and the automatic bid.
The highlight of UCLA’s season came in December when they defeated Kentucky, who was the nation’s top-ranked team at the time. The Bruins managed to get marquee victories over Gonzaga and Arizona in the weeks following, but they haven’t even looked like an NIT team in the last two months. UCLA is on a four-game losing streak, and Steve Alford's squad has won just three of their last 12 games.
USC defeated UCLA in their first meeting this year, getting an 89-75 win on Jan. 13. It was the beginning of UCLA’s downward spiral, as the Trojans beat the Bruins by 19 points less than a month later.
USC, however, hasn’t played much better than UCLA of late. They ended the year with a 10-point home loss to Oregon, and they have on win in their last five contests.
Both squads boast a strong backcourt. The Trojans are led by Julian Jacobs, who was named to the all-Pac 12 First Team, and sophomore Jordan McLaughlin has been the leader this season. The Bruins have turned to the clutch outside shooting of Bryce Alford, and the consistent play of Isaac Hamilton.
UCLA is a 2.5-point underdog, via vegasinsider.com, and the over/under is 156 points.
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Network
Live Online Stream: Pac-12 Networks Live
Prediction: The Bruins should want this game more than the Trojans, but USC has looked quite strong in both games against UCLA this year. On a neutral surface, and with the Bruins showing a sense of urgency, this game should go down to the wire.
Predicted Score: USC over UCLA, 75-74