USC closing in, but still no match for UCLA, 68-58

USC played in front of fans at the Galen Center for the first time since Dec. 18, but UCLA was the team soaking up the most atmosphere when Sunday’s game ended.

After clinching a 68-58 win over USC on Sunday, UCLA players gathered around the corner to a small section of fans dressed in blue and gold to punctuate a sweep of the regular-season rivalry with a strong eight clap.

Charisma Osborne, who scored a season-high 27 points with six rebounds and three assists, took photos with fans behind the UCLA bench after completing a television interview on the court. Fans chanted the name of UCLA coach Cori Close in an enemy arena as she left the field after UCLA’s fourth straight win over crosstown rivals.

“UCLA runs LA,” freshman forward Izzy Anstey said.

The Bruins (9-4, 4-1 Pac-12) conquered their rival’s field by responding to a comeback attempt by USC in the third quarter. After falling into an early hole by allowing five three-pointers in the first quarter, the Trojans (9-7, 2-4 Pac-12) tied the game with nine unanswered runs to start the second half. . They reduced their turnover from a season-high 27 from Thursday’s loss to 11, but made two key errors in the third that helped UCLA finish the quarter on a 12- 3.

Still licking their wounds after a 23-point loss at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, the Trojans picked up 13 points apiece from guard Tara Reed and forwards Jordyn Jenkins and Alissa Pili. Pili, a junior who won Pac-12 Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, had her first double-digit night of the conference season.

“We came unprepared [Thursday] and we got booed,” Pili said. “So we took that and we put it into practice, we put it in preparation for this next game and we did a very good job of coming back with a bit of a fight in us.

Despite a roster change that brought 6-foot-6 rookie Clarice Akunwafo to the starting unit for the first time, USC was trailed 36-28. Motivated after UCLA lost the rebound battle 46-32 on Thursday, Anstey had nine boards with six points.

His tenacity was “really unmatched today,” Close said.

The Bruins appear to have found their footing after an injury-riddled preseason and a coronavirus-interrupted non-conference roster. The victory extended their winning streak to four games, a season high, and Close noted the confidence she can now see in her players.

“I’m mostly proud of our consistency,” Close said. “That we’re starting to realize who we are and when we’re at our best.”

Meanwhile, the Trojans have lost three of their last four since eliminating then. 4 Arizona as freshman coach Lindsay Gottlieb continues to transform the once-proud program.

“They’re a lot more advanced, so I’m looking forward to seeing where the rivalry goes,” Gottlieb said. “It’s something that for me was exciting to be a part of, but more [excited] for the kind of vision of where it’s going.

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