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No. 10 UCLA hopes winning formula works against USC

In the past decade, advanced analytics have helped coaches take a deeper look into their basketball teams at every level. Professional, college, and even high school. Analytics are woven into the fabric of the way teams are built in the MLB, NFL and NBA nowadays.

However, it is a delicate balance to know how much feel and experience should weigh alongside the analytics. There are numbers that can’t be ignored and intangibles that can’t be measured. UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin looks at the KenPom.com rankings, which is a highly trusted source for advanced college basketball analytics.

The No. 10 Bruins are one of just two teams in the country ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, spotted at seventh and sixth, respectively.

Numbers can tell you where a team is benefitting and where a team is lacking. But the simple numbers – which seem to be the most important – don’t lie. Cronin’s winning equation seems to be based off of experience, feel, and victories.

“I don’t come in to try and impress talking about analytics, but we were doing this stuff for Bob Huggins in the ’90s,” Cronin said Wednesday. “You get more shots off than the other team … you got a better chance (to win). If you’re plus in rebounding, plus in turnovers, you’re probably going to be plus in field goal attempts, plus in possessions. You gotta better chance to win. We practice that.”

Practice has made perfect in Pac-12 Conference play so far as UCLA’s unbeaten conference record (4-0) will be on the line when it hosts crosstown rival USC (11-4, 3-1) on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

USC and UCLA have split their 14 meetings evenly over the past six seasons, including conference tournament meetings.

“We’ll see if we’re sixth and seventh against USC,” said Cronin, alluding to the efficiency rankings. “The numbers do mean something, but it’s what you have done. I think it’s indicative of what you’re capable of.”

In UCLA’s first four Pac-12 games this season, the Bruins have followed Cronin’s equation to victory, averaging 6.75 more shot attempts, grabbing two more rebounds and turning the ball over five fewer times.

It helps to explain their strong start, including 10 consecutive wins. But are there analytics for how analytics apply in an emotional rivalry game?

“What I like about our rivalry with USC is it’s about basketball,” Cronin said. “The guys know each other so well, it’s a small basketball world. It’s not a rivalry out of hatred.”

UCLA won the two most recent meetings, including a 69-59 decision in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament semifinals. Jaime Jaquez Jr. averaged 17 points and 5 rebounds in three games against USC last season. Tyger Campbell averaged 16.7 points and 3 assists in those games.

“I don’t forget,” Jaquez said. “We won the last two, but I don’t forget what happened before then.”

The Trojans beat UCLA four of the last five times before beat them twice in a week last March.

NO AMARI BAILEY

Amari Bailey is expected to miss Thursday night’s game, according to Cronin, who told reporters Wednesday the freshman guard is still working out a foot injury that caused him to miss the last two games against Washington State and Washington.

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“It’s going to take some time (to get Amari back on the floor),” Cronin said. “But it’s not anything that’s going to affect his career.”

Adem Bona, a fellow freshman, was just honored by the Pac-12 Conference as the Freshman of the Week. The honor is now a record fourth time a Bruins freshman has been given the honor this season. Bailey has won it twice and Dylan Andrews got it once.

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

Where: Pauley Pavilion

When: 6:30 p.m. (PT)

TV/radio: ESPN/1150 AM

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