LOS ANGELES--Winning on the road is always difficult in college basketball and winning a rivalry game isn't much easier, so it's no surprise the UCLA basketball team was full of smiles after accomplishing both in a 66-47 Pac-12 victory over USC Sunday night at the Galen Center.
It was the first road win of the season for UCLA, which has elevated its level of play in recent weeks and has now won eight of its last 10 games, including three in a row. The Bruins (10-7, 3-2 Pac-12) also avenged a 63-52 loss at the Galen Center from a year ago.
"Before the game we were saying that we got embarrassed out here last year so we’ve got a bad taste in our mouth and we’ve got to go out and win so that's what we did," center Joshua Smith said. "It just feels good to get a win here."
It gives the Bruins some needed confidence as they prepare to go to Oregon State and Oregon this week for a tough road trip.
"It means a lot to get a road win," Tyler Lamb said. "We try not to let that be a factor, but it always is. So for us to come out here and get this, it boosts our confidence for our road trip next week."
Five observations from the game:
1It was a special win for UCLA
Forget that USC is in a rebuilding mode and is the lone Pac-12 team without a conference victory, anytime UCLA plays USC, it means something.
It appeared early on that the game would be a dogfight as they were tied, 9-9 midway through the first half, but UCLA took control with a 26-7 run that pretty much silenced the USC home crowd.
"We lost here last year and it was really embarrassing," guard Lazeric Jones said. "That stuck with me. That was all I thought about last night and this morning. To get the win with the crowd on your back, it felt really good."
Jones, a junior college transfer from Chicago, acknowledged that he didn't quite understand the scope of the rivalry last year, but it felt much different this year.
"After losing that game here, I really felt it," he said. "I feel like I’m part of the rivalry now. Every time we scored I was excited and every time they scored, I was really mad. So I feel it now."
2The Bruins dominated the glass
UCLA simply out muscled the Trojans down low, winning the rebounding battle by a staggering 44-19. The 25-rebound margin was the largest of the Ben Howland era at UCLA and the largest since the Bruins out-rebounded Northern Arizona by 30 in 2002.
Not only that, but UCLA actually won the battle of the boards on their own end of the floor, getting 13 offensive rebounds while USC had only 11 defensive rebounds.
"Obviously the board play was huge for us," coach Ben Howland said.
Travis Wear had eight rebounds, David Wear had seven, Norman Powell had six and Jerime Anderson and Joshua Smith each had five. Powell said the team mindset coming in to the game was to dominate the glass.
"Coach hounded in on us that this was going to be the battle of the boards so we had to crash the boards hard and that’s what we were trying to do," Powell said. "We came in looking to be aggressive."
3Travis Wear continued his solid play
Travis Wear led the team with 19 points and eight rebounds, marking the third consecutive game he has had 16 or more points and five or more rebounds. Wear made seven of 12 shot attempts and is shooting 19-of-28 (67.9 percent) over the last three games.
"I’m just trying to take my time now and be more patient and just letting the game come to me and it’s been helping me," said Wear, who was averaging 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds before his current three-game tear.
"I think running fewer sets and this pin down action we’ve been doing, it’s been easy for me to get to the rim and get easy passes from our guards and easy put backs. I'm getting used to the game now and I’m really happy with the way I’ve been playing. I think now I’m just more comfortable."
Not to be outdone, brother David Wear is also playing at a high level. He had 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday and is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds over the last four games, and the two have provided an excellent compliment to Joshua Smith inside.
"We're all starting to click a little more." Smith said. "The Wears are playing well and that helps everyone play well."
4UCLA executed its offense well
The Bruins shot 51 percent from the field, including 64 percent in the first half, getting an array of open layups and easy shots inside because of good offensive execution against an excellent defensive team. Their 66 points equaled the most allowed by USC this season.
"We’ve spent a lot more time on it than we had early in the year," Howland said. "That’s been our main focus since the Cal and Stanford games is trying to get better at the offensive end."
One of the big offensive changes was moving Jerime Anderson to the point guard full time and letting Lazeric Jones focus more on getting open and it's helped open up things all over the court as the offensive sets have become more fluid.
"Jerime is really under control and running our offense," Howland said. "Zeek [Jones] is getting good opportunities, which is why we made that move and it’s really been good for us now. There are a lot of people stepping up and playing important roles for us."
5Norman Powell has emerged from his slump
Powell, UCLA's freshman guard, has been electrifying at times this season, made three of five shots, including a three-pointer and finished with seven points. It was the second consecutive solid game for Powell, who had nine points on four of nine shooting Jan. 7 against Arizona State.
Prior to that, Powell had gone through a rough four-game stretch in which he made only four of 22 shots (31.8 percent).
"It was just getting back in the gym and getting my repetition back," Powell said. "The ball was slipping and when I would miss shots, my confidence was down. Knowing that, I had to get back in the gym and keep working on my shot. I feel like since I’ve put overtime in the gym, it really showed."
Powell said that during the slump he was overthinking his shots instead of just letting them fly. Now that a few have fallen, he said, he's beginning to regain the confidence to just shoot.
"When I was open, I would force it," Powell said. "I’m a shooter, I know I can make open shots. I was just trying to get in the groove and not think about it."