NCAA BK

USC eager for rematch with No. 3 UCLA

LAS VEGAS -- The last time USC faced UCLA, the Trojans were in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Trojans' lowest point of the season.

The 102-70 loss at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 18 was followed by getting swept on the road by Arizona and Arizona State.

Coach Andy Enfield's USC team, now 24-8 and one win shy of tying the school record for a season, rebounded by sweeping the Washington schools at home and beating the Huskies once again Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.

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Getting another crack at No. 3 UCLA (28-3) in a quarterfinal game Thursday means the Trojans have one more chance to prove that four-game losing streak was a fluke and they are worthy of making the NCAA Tournament field.

"Our RPI is in the 30s, the high 30s, and we're 24-8," Enfield said. "So we feel like we're in pretty good shape for the NCAA Tournament being a decent seed as well because we have 24 wins. (Thursday) will be our eighth game against teams with 27 or more wins.

"We're the only team in the country that played that kind of schedule. So a quarter of our schedule has been teams with 27 or more wins -- UCLA three times, Arizona twice, Oregon twice, and SMU, who we beat early in the season."

USC sophomore forwards Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright -- the Trojans' top two scorers -- showed against Washington on Wednesday they can be formidable.

Metu had 24 points and nine rebounds, and Boatwright added 13 points and five rebounds.

That production will be necessary against a potent UCLA team that leads the nation in points per game (91.3) and assists per game (21.7).

The Bruins, who got a bye into the quarterfinals, enter the Pac-12 tournament on a nine-game winning streak.

"I haven't been this confident going into a Pac-12 tournament in the postseason, I think, in my career," said senior UCLA shooting guard Bryce Alford, who had 26 points in the last meeting with USC. "I've always been a confident guy and confident in my guys, but this year there's just something about us that I feel like we're built for this kind of stuff."

UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf should be cleared to play against USC after sitting out last week's game against Washington State with a sprained left ankle.

Leaf ranks second among the Bruins in scoring (16.3 points per game) and rebounding (8.4 board per game), and leads all rotation players by making 63 percent of his shots and 46.2 percent of his 3-point attempts.

In the rout over USC last month, Leaf had 19 points and eight rebounds and center Thomas Welsh finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds.

How Leaf and Welsh fare against Boatwright and Metu could go a long way toward determining the outcome of Thursday's game.

UCLA freshman guard Lonzo Ball can be the difference in how he distributes to Leaf and Welsh. Ball leads the Pac-12 with an average of 7.8 assists per game to go along with 14.9 points and 6.2 rebounds.

"We've got to come out and play hard from the jump," said USC guard Jordan McLaughlin, who will be assigned to guard Ball often. "We can't fall back early, especially with a team like that. We've just got to fight for the whole 40 minutes."