Is USC basketball program closing the gap on UCLA?

USC completed a three-game sweep of UCLA last season for the first time in 74 years

USC completed a three-game sweep of UCLA last season for the first time in 74 years

Based on the number of decades in between the USC basketball team’s two most recent single-season, three-game sweeps of UCLA, it would seem that last season required the perfect storm for such an occurrence.

The last time it happened before then? 1942. Yes, 74 years ago. It’s probably safe to assume that’s not going to happen this year.

That said, USC appears to be a program on the rise and is certainly a threat to No. 8 UCLA. Despite losing two players to the NBA and four to transfer after last season’s NCAA tournament appearance, the Trojans were ranked for five consecutive weeks this season. UCLA’s freshmen have obviously landed it in a different stratosphere than the team that was swept last season – the Bruins surpassed their 2015-16 win total two-and-a-half weeks ago.

The further it delves into Pac-12 play, the more USC’s 14-0 start this season seems a product of a weak non-conference schedule. Although they did play Arizona close and lost a game to Cal they probably shouldn’t have. But 4-4 in the Pac-12 isn’t exactly what Andy Enfield would have hoped for.

The worst thing that could have happened for USC was probably Arizona handing UCLA its second loss of the season on Saturday. Considering the Bruins’ glaring weakness is defense, UCLA will be plenty motivated to prove itself on that end of the floor against USC.

UCLA’s defense also might be the remedy for USC’s shooting woes. The Trojans were shooting below 40 percent through their first seven Pac-12 games before breaking out of the slump in Sunday’s win over Arizona State with 51 percent shooting from 2- and 3-point range.

Whether his defense is capable of making a leap or not, UCLA coach Steve Alford is hoping to begin another winning streak against the Trojans. He didn’t like the feeling he was left with when USC handed UCLA a 24-point loss in the Pac-12 tournament to end last season and complete the three-game sweep.

“It wasn’t as good,” Alford said, “as the feeling I had when we beat USC five times in a row.”

Links to our pregame coverage of UCLA versus USC:

  • UCLA seeking redemption after USC’s sweep
  • USC hoping De’Anthony Melton will slow Lonzo Ball