LOS ANGELES — Last year at the Galen Center, it was USC’s Drew Peterson, who looked like Larry Bird raining shots from every angle and in every which way, a barrage of turnaround jumpers and deep 3-pointers en route to a Trojans victory over UCLA.
This time it was Boogie Ellis who couldn’t be stopped, scoring 27 of his 31 points in the second half with three 3-pointers and a perfect 10-for-10 clip from the free-throw line to hand the eighth-ranked Bruins their second straight Pac-12 Conference loss, 77-64, on Thursday night at the Galen Center.
“Their defense was great in the second half,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “They made it a street fight, the refs swallowed their whistles and we didn’t respond. That’s what happened.”
The stellar performance from one player draws the comparison to last year’s game, but the double-digit halftime lead dissipating into thin air felt a lot like the Jan. 5 matchup at Pauley Pavilion when the Bruins (17-4 overall, 8-2 Pac-12) nearly surrendered an 18-point lead before holding on for a two-point win.
It was a 12-point lead Friday night, which evaporated when USC (15-6, 7-3) used a 17-3 run to start the second half.
“They made shots, we didn’t. Rivalry games. It’s about performance. They had guys step up, raining in shots. We didn’t,” said Cronin, whose team had a 14-game winning streak before losing to Arizona last weekend.
Once again, despite the credit to USC for making shots, which helped the Trojans shoot 55% from the field in the second half, Cronin called out his defense, and specifically Jaime Jaquez Jr.
“I’d like him to play better defense,” Cronin said. “The guy had 15 points, I’m more worried about his defense.”
But the offense had glaring issues, too. When USC was making its big runs, the Bruins were looking for an answer. One time it came from David Singleton on an out-of-bounds play to stop a 12-0 run in the second half, but all-conference-level players Tyger Campbell and Jaquez didn’t appear from the thick fog to save the day the way Ellis did for USC.
“I think it’s our ball movement and our passing, and we weren’t taking care of the ball,” Jaquez said of the stuttering offense at times. “We also had more turnovers (14) than the other team, which is the first time all year.
“It’s all about toughness and taking care of the ball. That’s what we’re all about. We’re a team that usually takes care of the ball. When we don’t, bad things happen.”
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Jaquez scored 15 points and eight rebounds but took only 10 shots, almost four less than his average per game. David Singleton was a bright spot offensively, going 4 for 9 from 3-point range for 14 points.
“It was identical to the first game,” Singleton said. “That’s the most frustrating part. I have to be the one to step up and I take accountability for how we played. I need to talk more, I need to keep us together.”
Amari Bailey notched 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting in his return from a seven-game stretch of missed games due to a foot injury. Campbell had 14 points. Jaylen Clark was 0 for 7 from the field for three points. Dylan Andrews did not play due to illness, which also caused him to miss practice Wednesday.
“We’re no juggernaut. We played freshmen. We’re far from a juggernaut. We’re a really good team. We played a really good team. Great environment,” Cronin said. “I didn’t harbor any illusions about us being undefeated in the Pac-12.”