No. 3 UCLA holds off USC 76-74 to advance to Pac-12 semis

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LAS VEGAS (AP) Isaac Hamilton scored 22 points, and No. 3 UCLA overcame an uneven performance by Lonzo Ball while holding off rival Southern California 76-74 on Thursday night in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.

Ball got into early foul trouble and the young point guard struggled as the Trojans cut into a 14-point deficit before missing a tying 3-pointer and then two more shots in the final minute while trailing by three.

Ball, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, finished with 12 points and seven assists. Next up for Ball and the Bruins is a matchup with No. 7 Arizona in the semifinals on Friday night.

T.J. Leaf scored 14 points in his return after missing a game with a left ankle injury, and Thomas Welsh added 11 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out. UCLA (29-3) earned its 10th straight win.

Jordan McLaughlin scored 18 points and Elijah Stewart added 17 for USC (24-9), but each missed shots in the lane in the closing seconds while trailing by three.

Bennie Boatwright scored 11 points, but was 3 of 11 from the field and missed a tying 3 attempt with 34 seconds left.

Meeting in the tournament for the second straight year, the Los Angeles rivals played a much closer game than the last encounter, a 102-70 UCLA rout on Feb. 18. After USC started 1 of 14 from the field, it slowly got back in it.

BIG PICTURE

Southern California coach Andy Enfield was confident going into the game that the Trojans had done enough to warrant an NCAA invite. A strong showing even in defeat could further help the cause.

It wasn’t easy, but UCLA cleared the first hurdle in a tough three-step task. The Bruins are hoping to beat Arizona on Friday and potentially No. 5 Oregon in the final, a feat that could give them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

FOUL MOOD

UCLA coach Steve Alford spent much of the game pointing out the free-throw discrepancy to the referees. The Bruins didn’t attempt their third free throw until 11:08 remained. The Trojans, who took it to the basket more, had 18 by then. USC finished with a 25-13 edge.

FOUL MOOD, TOO

USC’s second-half angst was directed at the scorer’s table after Enfield removed Stewart when it was announced he had four fouls. He had three, and Stewart quickly jumped off the bench and returned.

UP NEXT

USC: The Trojans would like to return to the NCAA Tournament and make up for a dismal loss in 2016, when they blew a big lead and lost in the first round to Providence.

UCLA: Friday night will settle the season series with Arizona. Each team won on the other’s home floor in the regular season.