“I really wanted this [win] bad. This game, being a rivalry game, and me not being from here, so I didn’t know how big it is. I’m from Chicago, but it was really important to me to get this win,” said USC senior Nick Rakocevic on the importance of beating crosstown rival UCLA.
Rakocevic tallied 17 points and 14 rebounds, leading the Trojans to a hard-fought victory over the Bruins, 74-63 at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood.
“We really played well in the second half,” said Trojans Head Coach Andy Enfield. “We shot 67 percent. Our players really moved the ball well and we took some great shots. We really took care of the ball. The press kind of bothered us, but it allowed us to score in transition. This is a big win for us. They are an exceptionally talented team. They’ve got great size. This is a great win for us, especially on the road.”
It was a statement game for the Trojan seniors as guard Jonah Mathews joined his chipped in with 16 points and senior guard Daniel Utomi netted 13 points against the rival Bruins in their last season to enjoy the classic rivalry.
USC went into halftime with a 33-31 lead in a back and forth first half. Bruin guard Chris Smith finished as his team’s leading scorer, collecting a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Three minutes into the second half Rakocevic blocked Bruins forward Cody Riley and leading to a Jonah Mathews layup on the offensive end. The intensity level was unmatched by the Bruins, with the Trojans grabbing firm control of the half.
“Obviously, our defense in the second half was about as bad as it can get. Give them credit. I thought their toughness, their offensive toughness with the basketball against our pressure was the key to the game,” said Bruins Head Coach Mick Cronin about his teams second-half performance.
The Trojans came out of halftime shooting 69.6% from the field in the second half. The Bruins were outscored 41-32 in the second half shooting a lackluster 36% from the field.
“We did terrible on defense. Their offensive execution was excellent. They made some tough shots. We can’t guard the ball. That was what happened in the second half,” said Cronin.
With 3:57 left in regulation Trojans guard Daniel Utomi drilled a three-pointer extending USC’s lead 66-57 putting the game out of reach for UCLA, especially with their shots not falling.
The Trojans shooting display in this contest was one of their best of the season netting 7-of-14 three-pointers to the Bruins 3-of-13 from downtown.
“Every loss stings. You definitely don’t want to lose at home. You definitely don’t want to lose to your rivals. We did both tonight,” said Bruins guard Chris Smith. “I’d say that this one stings maybe a little more, just because of the politics and what not, but every loss stings.”
The Trojans improve to 13-3, while the Bruins fall 8-8 on the season. The two teams will face off again March 7th at the Galen Center.