LOS ANGELES – The UCLA Bruins could shout “We’re number two!” and feel good about it for now.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 27 points and No. 17 UCLA defeated 16th-ranked Southern California 75-68 on Saturday night to claim the No. 2 seed in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament. No. 2 Arizona earned the top seed with 18 league victories.
“We’re definitely focused and locked in going into the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments,” said Jules Bernard, who added 19 points.
The Bruins (23-6, 15-5 Pac-12) came into the teams’ regular-season finale tied for second in the league with their crosstown rival. They snapped a five-game skid against the Trojans with their first win in the series since Feb. 28, 2019, and first under third-year coach Mick Cronin.
“It definitely means a lot to end the regular season on a good note,” Bernard said.
Jaquez has scored 57 points in the Bruins’ last two games, including a career-high 30 against Washington.
“I’m just feeling a lot better,” he said. “My ankles are doing a lot better right now.”
Johnny Juzang returned for UCLA after missing two games with a sprained right ankle. He finished with eight points, missing two free throws with 30 seconds left and the Bruins clinging to a four-point lead.
Bernard went 3 of 4 at the free-throw line to close out the win.
The Trojans (25-6, 14-6) were led by Isaiah Mobley with 20 points and eight rebounds. Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson added 13 points each. Except for scoring the game’s first basket, the Trojans trailed the rest of the way. But they made it close at the end.
Fueled by a raucous, profanity-chanting student section, the Bruins’ defense forced 15 turnovers in avenging a 67-64 loss to the Trojans last month at Galen Center. UCLA had just one turnover – by Myles Johnson – for its fewest in any game on record and fewest by a Pac-12 team on record.
“Just sharing the ball, not trying to force anything, playing good offense,” Jaquez said.
USC tied the game 47-all on a four-point play by Ellis that capped a 12-6 run to open the second half.
Jaquez dunked one-handed to spark six straight points by UCLA before Peterson scored five in a row to draw the Trojans within one.
Jaquez took over, scoring on three consecutive possessions in a 16-4 run that gave UCLA its largest lead, 69-56. The Trojans committed four turnovers in short order and Ellis picked up his third foul.
But USC regrouped and closed to 70-68 with a 12-1 spurt, including seven points by Mobley, as the Bruins went cold.
“I didn’t like the way we finished the game. We had some egregious errors down the stretch,” Cronin said. “We did everything we could to let them back in. We should have won by double figures.”
Cody Riley hit a turnaround jumper in the lane that kept UCLA ahead 72-68.
Max Agbonkpolo committed USC’s final turnover with 31 seconds to play. Reese Dixon-Waters and Ellis missed 3-pointers and Ellis missed an easy layup over the final 16 seconds.
USC: The Trojans won a school-record 25 games in the regular season and are poised to make another postseason run. They reached the Elite Eight last year.
UCLA: The Bruins went 5-1 in making the Final Four at last year’s NCAA Tournament and they are eager to go a step further with their talent-laden roster.
The Bruins marked the 50th anniversary of the program’s 1972 national championship at halftime. Among the players gathered at center court were Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, Henry Bibby, Larry Farmer and Sven Nater, along with assistant coach Gary Cunningham. UCLA went undefeated in 1971-72 under coach John Wooden en route to winning the school’s eighth NCAA basketball title.
Bernard, Riley and David Singleton were honored before the game, although it might not be the seniors’ last. All three could return next season since the NCAA has granted extra eligibility to players because of COVID-19.
Both teams earned first-round byes for the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and will open play on Thursday. The Bruins play the winner of No. 7 Washington State against No. 10 California. The third-seeded Trojans play either No. 6 Washington or No. 11 Utah in the quarterfinals. If both teams win, the Bruins and Trojans could meet in the semifinals.