By Manny Nunez
UCLA and USC faced off at Pauley Pavilion Saturday afternoon, causing a ruckus in the Pac-12 as to where these two teams would seed as the conference heads into its final month. UCLA got that much needed win to stay atop as being of the best four teams in the conference, winning 82-79 on a clutch three by Aaron Holiday and crucial free throws by Thomas Welsh in the final seconds.
Here are five things that we can take away from both performances after the game:
1) USC is going to be a tough out in March
Picked to be second in the conference, the Trojans fell apart slightly as they were trying to recover from injuries and weak performances by Elijah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin. Both players have returned to form as they have taken the ease off of Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright. In the loss, Stewart led all scorers with 20 points, and four players finished in double figures. The only catch is both Boatwright and McLaughlin had only seven points to their credit. in such a tough loss. This is a Trojan team that can be more than just a team that is happy to make the NCAA tournament.
2) UCLA can go far if they if a third player steps up consistently
The Bruins can be a streaky team at times, where a lot of the offense relies on Holiday and Welsh. Both set the tone when it comes to setting up the offense. There have been certain games where the Bruins need more than these two, and in most of their losses putting up less than 70 points have shown. With the win, the Bruins are not out of the woods yet as they their next two opponents (Arizona and Arizona State) have their own storylines to write just like UCLA.
3) Stay, Chimezie, Stay!
The Trojans have banked on Metu for his consistency and improvement all year, and in reality the last two seasons. As a lot of draft boards have him going late in the first round, the Trojans would love for him to stick around for his senior year. He struggled against the Bruins, limited to just 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting and it didn’t allow the Trojans to utilize him as much. While he can be a solid shooter and can play inside very well with his length, he still lacks a bit of size and strength. It showed at times being unable to get inside. If he can stick around just one more year, USC has that legit shot of possibly going far with Boatwright and Shaqquan Aaron ultimately returning.
4) Holiday and Welsh are NBA ready
It wouldn’t be so surprising if Holiday ended his UCLA basketball career after his junior year. While declaring for the NBA Draft last season, both Welsh and Holiday pulled out just days before the deadline. This time around, both players have come around and have done plenty in terms of all the intangibles of basketball in their careers. Both Welsh and Holiday can get drafted in the mid to late rounds, but don’t be surprised as the season draws to a close if Holiday raises his stock. On the other hand…
5.) Hands, Wilkes are likely to move forward for the Bruins
As it has been Holiday and Walsh’s team this year, Kris Wilkes has been spotty at best this year. Jaylen Hands has also had spurts of decent performances this year, but overall it has not translated on the court. Even in their win, Hands and Wilkes combined for just 22 points and were 8-for-22 from the field. Eventually these two can turn things around, but it needs to happen sooner than later if the Bruins can strong case for a deep March run.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 4, 2018