Before the college basketball main event that is March Madness, there are two California rivals with a score to settle.
USC has won a record five straight games against UCLA in the series. The two meet Saturday night in Pauley Pavilion in the last PAC-12 regular-season game of the year. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. local time.
The No. 2 seed in the upcoming PAC-12 tournament will be at stake (Arizona has clinched the regular-season title and top seed) plus all-important Los Angeles bragging rights. UCLA leads the all-time series, 121-55.
The PAC-12 tournament tips off Wednesday, Mar. 9, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The NCAA tournament selection show is Sunday, Mar. 13.
California gamblers could wager on this game if the sports betting initiative on the November voting ballot is approved.
What do the oddsmakers say?
UCLA is one of the signature programs in all of college basketball with 19 Final Four appearances and 11 national titles. The Bruins reached the Final Four last year as the No. 11 seed, one of the greatest underdog runs of all time.
BetMGM Sportsbook in California has the Bruins as 7.5 point favorites and +2,500 to cut down the nets in New Orleans this year in the Final Four. The over/under line set at 135.5.
Caesars has the Bruins by the same number, but the over/under a point higher.
Odds are already posted on the PAC-12 Tournament. Arizona is an even-money favorite, with UCLA +175 to win it and USC +900.
Let’s talk Trojans
Coach Andy Enfield’s bunch has been ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation and enters the game with UCLA ranked No. 16. It projects to be around a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Four different players are averaging in double-figures for the Trojans, led by junior forward Isaiah Mobley with 14.4 points a game and 8.5 rebounds.
What’s been brewing at UCLA?
The Bruins, now ranked No. 17, opened the season as high as No. 2 in the polls after their Final Four run in 2020. They started hot, winning 10 of their first 11 games, but have lost four of their last 10.
It’s been all-team J for the Bruins. The UCLA guard combo of Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez average 17 and 12.8 points respectively.
Reviewing the last 10 games
When the two teams met earlier this season, UCLA was a four-point favorite and the over/under total was 137. The game finished under.
UCLA has been the sportsbook favorite in their last nine games. In those nine, they have covered the spread six times.
In the Bruins’ last 10 games, five have gone over and five under. USC has been the underdogs in each of their last two games. They beat Oregon straight-up as the underdog but lost to Arizona badly.
USC’s last three games have all hit the over. They have not covered the spread in four of their last five.
Last five meetings: USC V. UCLA
USC 67, UCLA 64: Drew Peterson had a double-double for the Trojans with a career-high 27 points. UCLA’s Tyga Campbell missed a desperation three at the buzzer.
USC 64, UCLA 63:
Trojans star Tahj Eaddy was practically falling out of bounds when he launched a miraculous three-point shot with 1.4 seconds left to stun the Bruins.
USC 66, UCLA 48:
This ended up being the Bruins’ most lopsided loss of the season. Ethan Anderson sank five three-pointers for USC and finished with a career-high 19 points.
USC 54, UCLA 52:
Another last-second three-pointer for USC, this one by Jonah Mathews with one second left. He finished with 19 points. Neither team led by more than five and the game ended up being the last of the year due to Covid-19 shutting down the season.
USC 74, USC 63:
The Trojans did it again on UCLA’s homecourt. Trojans senior Nick Rakocevic went for 17 points and 14 rebounds and Mathews added 16 as the Trojans rolled.
The play: Advice on what to bet
It’s not surprising that the Bruins are favored but 7.5 points seem like a lot. Remember, USC has dominated this series lately but the games have usually been close.
The sportsbooks may be playing into the average fans’ knowledge of UCLA. I do like UCLA to win, they’re due, but I am leaning toward taking USC and the points and the under in a close, defensive game.