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USC prized recruit Bryce Jones (Taft HS) faced dismissal from the basketball team if he did not transfer. Photo by Leon Bennett UCLA can make a statement, extend win streak. USC must reach .500, make due after freshman Bryce Jones’ transfer. By Michael Brown, Sentinel Sports WriterUCLA Bruins Head coach Nikki Caldwell’s top-10 ranked women’s basketball team may not be the best squad on the Westwood campus after all.A few weeks ago, it sure looked that way as Coach Ben Howland’s men’s team lost back-to-back conference games to Washington and USC. But since, the Bruins have won four straight.Part of the turnaround can be attributed to improved defensive play. Defense, a hallmark of Howland’s coaching style, was displayed when the Bruins swept the Oregon schools two weeks ago and gave California and Stanford the broom treatment as well last week.During Saturday’s 86-84 win against Cal, the late-game heroics of Reeves Nelson saved the Bruins. Nelson had a buzzer-beater tip-in, for two of his career-high 24 points. Guard Lazeric Jones also chipped in with a career-high 24 points.One of the strengths of Howland’s team is that opponents can’t lock-in on one player. Seemingly every night, another Bruin can takeover the reigns and score.That happened during the Stanford game last Thursday when guard Malcolm Lee scored 23 points to lead UCLA to a 68-57 victory. The Bruins showed in the win against the Cardinal that they can look both like a tournament worthy team or a NIT level squad.They rallied from 14 points down in the first half before pulling away from Stanford. Derrick Williams (La Mirada H.S.) and the Arizona Wildcats will give them a good challenge when they face each other Jan. 27.Arizona is 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-10. UCLA is 13-6 and 5-2. The winner will take sole possession of second place in-conference.USC Trojans Fresh off a split with the two Bay Area schools last week, USC has a chance to reach .500 in the Pac-10 with a win against lowly Arizona State and to impress NCAA Tournament selection voters if they can knock off Arizona.But neither task will be easy, especially with the Trojans’ wafer thin lineup.The Jan. 27 game at ASU should be a cakewalk, however, after watching the Trojans play porous defense and get swept in Oregon by the Ducks and Beavers two weeks back--there are no guarantees.After freshman swingman Bryce Jones (Taft H.S.) played a combined 14 minutes in both losses, no one expected Coach Kevin O’Neill’s prize recruit to bolt the program after just half a season, but he did.Jones announced his departure Tuesday, Jan. 18, leaving the Trojans (11-9 overall, 3-4 in the Pac-10) with a seven-man lineup. Jones said that he was leaving because of a lack of playing time, but word has leaked that Jones faced dismissal from USC’s basketball team if he did not transfer after he allegedly struck fellow freshman Garrett Jackson, fracturing his noses, and he also had a confrontation with a resident advisor in his dormitory. Freshman guard Maurice Jones spoke with an ESPNLA.com blogger about whether the transfer would limit the team’s options in the backcourt.He said, “Yeah, a little bit, because Bryce was kind (of) like our slasher. Bryce at 6-5 or 6-6, he was long, he was able to be one of our best guards rebounding and stuff like that, but we’ve just got (to) do it with what we got.”And they did, at least for one game.Following the debacles in Oregon, USC trounced Stanford at the Galen Center, 65-42. Freshman Garrett Jackson stepped in for Bryce and scored six points and had three rebounds in 11 minutes.However, USC suffered from just playing seven players Saturday in a 68-66 loss to California. The Trojans failed to execute over a sustained amount of time, leading by eight at one point--but also trailing by 11 at another. Reserve guard Donte Smith’s career-high 24 points, including a career-high eight three-point makes wasn’t enough to stave off a Cal rally.USC’s best player Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 10 rebound and 1.5 blocks per game) had one of his worse games of the season against Cal, finishing 2-of-8 from the field for six points. If this team has any postseason ambitions, they had better shape up. Losing Jones is a big loss and it’s unclear why he left the program at this point. For USC and O’Neill’s sake, hopefully Jones’ departure was amicable and no feelings are hurt.L.A. recruiting is a small world and players talk. O’Neill’s success or failure at USC will be determined by the relationships he can develop with coaches and players at programs such as Taft in Woodland Hills.
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