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Sunday, February 14, 2010
Final: USC 68, UCLA 64

By Pedro Moura

For USC, Sunday night was a coming-out party of sorts.

They proved last month's victory over UCLA was not a fluke.

They proved they can consistently beat teams in the Pac-10.

They proved they have some sort of offensive firepower.

And despite everything they did wrong — despite doing "all the things down the stretch you didn't want to do," as USC coach Kevin O'Neill said — the Trojans beat the Bruins Sunday night at the Galen Center, 68-64.

It wasn't easy, but it was effective.

"For 27, 28 minutes, they took it to us," O'Neill said. "They killed us on the boards, but our guys made their free throws, and they played through bad stretches. I'm happy with where we're at."

UCLA (11-13, 6-6) out-rebounded the Trojans 46-25. But 20 turnovers did the Bruins in, as USC scored 26 points off them.

"Give them credit," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "They forced turnovers. We have to learn to take better care of the ball."

And so, with much-deserved fanfare, USC (15-9, 7-5) beat the Bruins for the first time in Galen Center history and swept them for the first time since 2004 — and moved into sole control of third place in the Pac-10.

In a season that will contain only 30 games, Sunday night was undeniably a bright spot for the Trojans.

Said point guard Mike Gerrity, in the midst of his only season for USC: "I think, postseason or not, you're always going to hold onto that."

Player of the game: USC guard Dwight Lewis posted his second consecutive standout performance against the Bruins. In 32 minutes, Lewis scored a game-high 23 points. The senior made 8-of-13 field goal attempts, including 3-of-6 from three and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.

"Dwight Lewis did a lot of good things tonight," O'Neill said. "He made big shots, he hit free throws down the stretch."

"When he plays like that, we have a chance."

This after Lewis put up a similar 24-point performance at Pauley Pavilion last month. Sunday was Lewis' final of 10 games against the Bruins in his college career.

"He brought the sparks, and I definitely saw it last time against UCLA too," Gerrity said. "He really steps up for this challenge. The fact that it's his last game against UCLA, he really wanted to go out wit a win and go out on top there."

Play of the game: At one point in the second half, UCLA had all the momentum, up 38-35 with 15 minutes to go in the game.

Lewis then missed a 3-pointer, but USC's Nikola Vucevic fought for the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Gerrity, who put in his first basket of the game and was fouled in the process.

Two minutes later, the Trojans led by four, and UCLA never regained the lead.

"It definitely ignites you," Gerrity said.

Quote of the game: A tie between three ultra-funny quotes describing Marcus Johnson's failed second-half slam. Johnson stole the ball away from UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt as he started a possession and aimed immediately for the basket.

"He was at about half-court when he stole it," forward Alex Stepheson said, going through the play bit-by-bit. "I saw the other dude running with him, and I was like, 'Oh, my God, if this other guy jumps this is gonna be bad.' He missed it, but I was jumping around like he made it. I wish he would've made it."

"That type of stuff, it really gets our team energized," Lewis said. "It makes us wanna play harder. Like, let's give Marcus another try. Let's go hard on defense and get a steal for him."

Added Lewis: "Watching Marcus Johnson is fun."

And lastly, O'Neill, ever the simplist, just called it a "gorilla dunk."

Notes: Each team had just seven players see more than seven minutes of action, as USC's Marcus Simmons logged only three minutes...The announced attendance was just 8,836 for the 10,258-seat Galen Center. The first 100 students to arrive received free Nike track jackets, and the first 1,500 students got T-shirts...Said O'Neill of USC's 67-46 win over UCLA last month: "The first game we had with them was an aberration."