As he watched his future rival dominate his future teammates game after game, TJ Leaf didn’t feel a surge of exasperation. He sensed opportunity.
“It wasn’t so much being angry, but just more excited just to come in and try to make an impact,” the UCLA freshman power forward said Tuesday. He was referring to USC’s dominance in the rivalry last season, when the Trojans won all three games in a season for the first time since 1942.
“Watching those games, I knew what we could be next year, so now I’m just excited to be in that moment.”
Across town, there is also enthusiasm about the possibilities. The Trojans can post a fourth consecutive victory over UCLA when they face the eighth-ranked Bruins on Wednesday night at the Galen Center. A victory would give them their longest winning streak against UCLA since they won four consecutive games from 2009 to 2011.
Recent history is heavily tilted toward USC in a series UCLA leads, 138-107.
The Trojans commemorated the historic significance of their season sweep at the Pac-12 Conference tournament in March when they wrote “1942” on the whiteboard inside their locker room along with “3-0.” Their 24-point drubbing of the Bruins that day was their biggest blowout in the rivalry in 71 years.
Update: UCLA literally turned up the volume in practice as a result of its feeble defensive effort while giving up 96 points against Arizona on Saturday during its first home loss of the season. “It was loud in here,” Bruins guard Bryce Alford said. “We’re so used to hearing the coaches talking in practice; [Monday], all I could hear was the players.” Alford described the Bruins as “a little bit embarrassed, a little bit upset and just ready to get back on the court” and said their desire was reflected in their best defensive practice of the season. UCLA needs drastic improvement because its defensive efficiency ranks No. 127 in the nation, according to statistics guru Ken Pomeroy. Virginia Commonwealth was the only team in the last 15 seasons to make the Final Four with a defensive efficiency ranking outside the top 80 when the Commodores ranked No. 81 in 2011. Meanwhile, USC has struggled offensively in Pac-12 Conference play without the injured Bennie Boatwright. The Trojans were last in the conference in shooting percentage through their first seven games, leading to lopsided losses on the road against Oregon and Utah and narrow home defeats against California and Arizona. Much of the Trojans’ offense comes from shooting guard Elijah Stewart, who is tied with point guard Jordan McLaughlin for the team lead with 14.1 points per game. McLaughlin also adds 5.1 assists per game. Forward Chimezie Metu is UCLA’s grittiest defender. He has averaged 14.5 points and seven rebounds in conference play.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand
Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles TimesCollege Basketball UCLA Bruins Andy Enfield USC Trojans Pac-12 Conference Oregon Ducks Arizona Wildcats