At least most of the fans went home happy. UCLA was anything but.
The 10th-ranked Bruins blew an 18-point lead in the second half before rallying to beat crosstown rival Southern California 60-58 on Thursday night for their 11th straight victory.
“Do I look happy?” groused Bruins coach Mick Cronin.
Jaylen Clark added, “You’re not supposed to let them come back, especially at home.”
Clark scored 15 points to lead the Bruins (14-2, 5-0 Pac-12). He missed a 3-pointer, but David Singleton grabbed the offensive rebound and fed Clark again. This time, he nailed it, putting the Bruins back in front, 59-58, with 14 seconds to go.
“At least we grabbed rebounds,” Clark said, noting a 36-30 edge on the boards. “We lucked out but it’s not a performance we’re really proud of.”
Boogie Ellis missed missed a potential tying jumper that would have forced overtime and Adem Bona grabbed the rebound to seal the win and keep UCLA undefeated at Pauley Pavilion in front of 13,659 with a 9-0 mark.
The Bruins are on their longest winning streak since 2016-17.
Reese Dixon-Waters scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half to lead the Trojans (11-5, 3-2). He made all seven of his shots and both of his free throws.
“Our defense was really bad the entire second half,” Cronin said. “We couldn’t guard Reese Dixon. He looked like an NBA iso machine.”
USC’s leading scorers, Ellis and Drew Peterson, had off-nights, with Peterson in foul trouble. Ellis finished with 10 points; Peterson had nine.
“We planned for Ellis and Peterson to go off,” Clark said. “Once they realized we weren’t giving them nothing they started moving the ball.”
Trailing by 18, the Trojans outscored the Bruins 19-6 to open the second half. Kobe Johnson had a steal and a score and Harrison Hornery came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer that drew the Trojans within five.
Bona and Tyger Campbell picked up their third fouls in under a minute of each other. Bona had the defensive play of the second half, blocking Malik Thomas on a dunk.
The Bruins missed 5 of 6 free throws while Dixon-Waters carried the Trojans. He scored eight of their 10 points to get USC to 56-53.
Hornery scored and got fouled on USC’s next possession. He missed the first free throw but made the second for a 56-all tie.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. missed a layup and Ellis scrambled and came up with the rebound in the clogged paint. Dixon-Waters scored to give the Trojans a 58-56 lead, their first since the start of the game.
Ellis got called for an offensive foul that gave UCLA the ball back with seven seconds to go. The Trojans fouled Singleton, whose first free throw hit the iron, drawing agonized groans from the crowd. He made the second for a 60-58 lead.
“Obviously that was not a performance we’re proud of,” said Jaquez, who finished with 12 points. “We came out in the second half flat and there’s really no excuse for it. I put that on myself.”
The Bruins raced to an 18-4 lead to start the game, hitting four 3-pointers in the spurt that included 13 straight points. In one sequence, Clark got blocked by Peterson, grabbed the offensive rebound and made a layup. UCLA had a 9-0 run later in the half and went into the break leading 44-26.
“It was embarrassing in the first half,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “I was embarrassed as a coach, and I was embarrassed for our players. I didn’t yell at them at halftime. I just had a sense that our players knew what to do in the second half.”
USC: The Trojans have dropped back-to-back games for just the second time this season. Before the skid, they won seven in a row, including a 6-0 mark in December that included a pair of Pac-12 road wins. They’ll face the Bruins again in three weeks.
UCLA: The Bruins continue on a winning streak that began after losses to ranked Illinois and Baylor at Las Vegas in November. They have seemingly bought into coach Mick Cronin’s hard-nosed defensive style, which helped them scrap to a one-point road win at Washington State last weekend. Later in January, the Bruins travel to No. 5 Arizona for a pivotal showdown in the desert in their lone remaining game against a ranked opponent.
The rivalry game brought out former Bruins Russell Westbrook and wife Nina, who played for UCLA’s women’s team, Baron Davis, and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who played baseball in Westwood. Dwyane Wade sat next to Utah Jazz executive Danny Ainge. Also in the crowd was Henry Winkler and Jessica Alba, whose father-in-law Michael Warren starred for UCLA in the John Wooden era.
USC: Hosts Colorado on Jan. 12 in the first of a two-game homestand.
UCLA: Hosts Utah on Jan. 12 in the second of three straight home games.