Hot-shooting Boogie Ellis leads USC against rival UCLA

LOS ANGELES — December got off to a rocky start for USC leading scorer Boogie Ellis.

The senior guard missed 25 of 39 shots across the first three games of the month. He went 4 for 20 from 3-point range in that stretch. All three were USC wins, so Ellis did not have to feel any regret over the performances. But with the Trojans preparing to face No. 19 Auburn, he knew he needed to make a fix, quickly.

As he examined each shot from that period on film, Ellis honed in on the culprit.

“A lot of my misses can come if I’m being unbalanced,” Ellis said. “Those three games where I shot bad, I looked at my film and I was off-balance on a lot of those.”

Ellis made the necessary corrections that led to a season-high 28 points in the win over Auburn and started a hot streak for the guard that USC will need to carry over into Thursday night’s rivalry game against No. 10 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

Balance has long been something that Ellis has paid attention to as part of his craft, considering a key ingredient for a successful shooter. At home, he has a mat where he stands on one foot, hopping to switch legs or catching tennis balls to test himself. And he works on his core strength regularly to help with balance.

That’s all before he gets on the court, where he sticks to a routine and attempts as many game-like shots as possible to prepare himself for when the moment matters.

Sometimes the results go his way, sometimes they don’t. Such is life as a scorer.

“I had those three games where I played pretty bad shooting-wise, but I’ll live with those,” Ellis said. “I’m in the gym almost every day. I’m not going to hang my head over missed shots.”

In addition to Elllis’ renewed focus on his balance, head coach Andy Enfield has noticed Ellis doing a better job of getting into the paint and looking for mid-range opportunities to create better shots.

“When Boogie’s playing well, he has a good mix of outside shooting with his driving ability,” Enfield said. “When he struggles is when he becomes a perimeter-oriented player and that’s it. It’s hard to shoot a high level of just perimeter shots every single game. And so when he’s at his best, he’s mixing it up.”

Ellis took an aggressive mindset against Auburn, hitting the Trojans’ first shot and scoring 14 of USC’s first 28 points. The Tigers’ defense had to respect Ellis, which opened up a lot of opportunities for other USC players to score and get the upset victory.

USC (11-4, 3-1 in Pac-12) might need a similarly aggressive Ellis to knock off the Bruins (13-2, 4-0) in Westwood.

“I definitely do feel like that,” Ellis said. “But at the same time, I feel like I can’t force things, either. The games where I’ve been playing very well, I just let the game come to me. Just take what the defense gives me and get as many good shots as possible.”

“We need our best players to show up tomorrow,” Enfield added.

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Ellis is one of a select few Trojans to have really experienced the crosstown rivalry, which the teams split in the regular season last year before UCLA beat USC in the Pac-12 tournament. Most of the younger players on the roster will be facing this level of intensity for the first time, so Ellis, a captain for USC, will try to give them advice in the build-up to the game.

“Just staying calm. When we’re up, when we’re down, just staying calm,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be a dog fight.”

USC (11-4, 3-1) at No. 10 UCLA (13-2, 4-0)

Where: Pauley Pavilion

When: Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/1150 AM

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