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USC gets closer, but is still no match for UCLA, 68-58

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

After notching a 68-58 win over USC on Sunday, UCLA players gathered at the corner of the court in front of a small section of blue and gold-clad fans to punctuate a regular-season rivalry sweep with a loud 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 finishing an on-court television interview. Fans chanted UCLA coach Cori Close’s name in an enemy arena as she walked off the court after UCLA’s fifth consecutive win over its crosstown rivals.

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“UCLA runs L.A.,” freshman forward Izzy Anstey said.

The Bruins (9-4, 4-1 Pac-12) conquered their rival’s home court by answering a USC comeback attempt in the third quarter. After falling into an early hole by giving up five three-pointers in the first quarter, the Trojans (9-7, 2-4 Pac-12) tied the score with nine unanswered points to start the second half. They cut their season-high 27 turnovers from Thursday’s loss to 11 but had two key miscues in the third that helped UCLA finish the quarter on a 12-3 run.

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Still licking their wounds from a 23-point loss at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, the Trojans had 13 points each from guard Tara Reed and forward Jordyn Jenkins and Alissa Pili. Pili, a junior who won the Pac-12 freshman of the year award two seasons ago, had her first double-digit scoring night of the conference season.

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

Despite a change in the lineup that brought 6-foot-6 freshman Clarice Akunwafo into the starting unit for the first time, USC was outrebounded 36-28. Motivated after UCLA lost the rebounding battle 46-32 on Thursday, Anstey had nine boards with six points.

Her toughness was “really unmatched today,” Close said.

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

“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.”

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Meanwhile, the Trojans have lost three of their last four since knocking off then-No. 4 Arizona as first-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb continues to turn the once-proud program around.

“They’re a lot further along in it so I’m excited to see where the rivalry will go,” Gottlieb said. “That’s something that, to me, was exciting to be part of it, but more [excited] for the kind of vision of where it’s going.”

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