LOS ANGELES — Boogie Ellis had his chances to score USC an upset win over UCLA three weeks ago. But an offensive foul and a missed attempt at the buzzer left the senior guard and the Trojans short.
With USC facing a double-digit deficit at halftime of the rematch with the eighth-ranked Bruins, Ellis was determined not to allow history to repeat itself.
Ellis scored a career-high 31 points, 27 coming in the second half as he matched the Bruins’ output in the final 20 minutes. And instead of seeing his team fall short, Ellis received a hero’s welcome from the 9,605 at Galen Center as he exited in the final seconds of USC’s 77-64 victory.
“I felt like the (previous) UCLA game was on me,” Ellis said. “I’m glad that I was able to help us get this win for our team.”
Ellis was everywhere USC (15-6 overall, 7-3 in Pac-12) needed him to be in the second half. He clenched his fists at his side after a step-back 3-pointer cut UCLA’s lead, once as large as 13, to one. He stole the ball minutes later from Tyger Campbell and passed ahead to Reese Dixon-Waters, who sidestepped a Campbell swipe for the go-ahead basket. And an Ellis 3-pointer pushed the one-point edge to four.
When the Bruins threatened again in the final minutes, Ellis stepped back for another jumper, then blocked Campbell from behind. And he delivered the kill shot with a 3-pointer as he fell to his back, making it a nine-point game with 1: 25 to play.
Other Trojans had their moments. Drew Peterson scored 16 and had the first five points of USC’s game-flipping 25-3 run. Freshman Tre White hit a couple of crafty shots beyond his years. Kobe Johnson hit a couple of 3-pointers and played suffocating defense with three steals.
But Ellis, who had six assists and no turnovers, was the fuel as USC outscored the Bruins 52-27 in the second half.
“Me and Drew told the guys, we’ve been in this position before,” Ellis said. “We told them we can’t panic. We’re going to come out and we’re going to hit them in the mouth in the second half. Forget what happened in the first half.”
As much as the offense stole headlines, the Trojans’ defense again left UCLA (17-4, 8-2) in a state of disarray in the second half, much as it was three weeks ago at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins were all kinds of discombobulated during an 18-2 Trojan run, unable to solve the USC defense. UCLA went 1 for 10 from the floor, throwing up awkward shots when drives were stopped in the paint. Veterans threw the ball away, expecting teammates to cut one way when they went the other.
And the Trojans rushed UCLA off the 3-point line. After the Bruins went 6 for 11 from behind the arc in the first half, USC held UCLA to 2 for 7 in the second.
“We really started to hard hedge the ball screens, try to put pressure on their guards so Campbell couldn’t get in the lane,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.
A David Singleton baseline jumper ended the Trojans’ advantage, and an Amari Bailey put-back layup made it a one-possession game as the teams prepared for a fight across the last seven minutes.
But the Trojans – who improved to 10-1 at home this season – controlled both ends of the court in the second half, holding UCLA to an 8-for-27 mark from the floor while shooting 55.6% themselves.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 15 points and Singleton and Campbell added 14 points each for the Bruins, who lost their second game in a row.
At first, it seemed like the rematch would follow the script of the first game. UCLA had a third-chance basket on the opening possession and Adem Bona turned a missed free throw into a dunk, setting the tone for a half in which the Bruins had 10 second-chance points to USC’s one.
USC went 7: 26 without a field goal, going 0 for 7 from the floor in that period. A brief six-point lead for the Trojans quickly disappeared as UCLA rattled off an 11-0 run. Singleton hit a couple of 3-pointers, the second giving the Bruins a 12-point lead. The guard bounced back up the court, eyes closed as he spun with jubilation.
The joy would be short-lived, though, as USC orchestrated a second-half comeback that this time stuck and reignited the Trojans’ hopes for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We needed a big statement win,” Enfield said. “We almost had it at Pauley three weeks ago. Our team is playing very well, they’ve improved a lot. That’s what we like to see. It’s fun to see the progression of teams. This team, we weren’t sure what we had, especially after we lost on opening night. So we’re very proud of our guys hanging in there and improving.”