A win over USC would mean more than just bragging rights for UCLA this time around.
The second-ranked Bruins look to hang onto sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 when they host the Trojans on Wednesday.USC (18-6, 8-3) is tied with Washington State for second place in the conference, one game behind UCLA (20-2. 9-2). The Trojans re-entered the poll at No. 19 after a 73-56 win over Oregon State on Thursday and a 71-68 victory over then-No. 9 Oregon two days later.UCLA, meanwhile, is coming off Thursday's 69-57 win over the Ducks and Saturday's impressive 82-35 victory over the Beavers. The Bruins have their sights set on a No. 1 seed in the Pac-10 tournament."You're playing for that seed because it's the easiest route to the Final Four," UCLA's Arron Afflalo said. "A lot of things are at stake, so we'll come out focused."Both teams have tough games coming up. Wednesday's contest opens a season-ending stretch in which the Trojans play five of seven on the road, including trips to No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Stanford and Washington State."I'm not sure if there's a tougher three-game stretch in the country -- playing Oregon, UCLA and Arizona like we do," coach Tim Floyd said.The Bruins play five of their last eight on the road and also visit Arizona and Washington State."I think it's two very good teams right now," UCLA coach Ben Howland said of Wednesday's matchup. "The rivalry's always going to be there. I mean, that's USC and UCLA playing in any sport, so that's just how it is."Afflalo, who leads the Bruins with 17.0 points per game, scored 16 on Saturday, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute added 14. UCLA has won 17 straight at Pauley Pavilion dating to last season."We wanted to come out with the same intensity as we did against Oregon," said guard Darren Collison, who had eight points and 10 assists. "If we want to get where we want to go, we got to have games like we did today."The two victories came on the heels of UCLA's second loss of the season, 75-68 at Stanford on Jan. 28."It's not like all of a sudden, we've won two home games and now we've suddenly arrived," Howland said. "It's all about what you've done for me lately."Freshman Taj Gibson scored 18 points Saturday for USC, winner of three straight since a road loss to the Cardinal on Jan. 25. Nick Young, who leads the Trojans with 17.0 points per game, added 13."We've been in so many close games. They understand close games and know how to win," Floyd said. "We're showing great poise when we need poise, and we're showing attack when we need to attack."The Trojans lost 65-64 to the Bruins on Jan. 13 on Afflalo's go-ahead 3-pointer with 4 seconds left. UCLA has won four of the last five meetings after dropping four straight in the series."SC is looking for that revenge," said Collison, who matched a career high with 17 points in that contest. "I like challenges like this, when you're playing a good team and a team that's a rivalry. It's not always fun just to have an easy victory against a rivalry team."The Bruins were without Josh Shipp, their second-leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, in the first meeting because of a small hamstring tear."They're better because they just got more experience," Howland said of the Trojans. "We're better than we were when we played them the first time, too, not just the fact that Josh is healthy, but we've improved as a team."