UCLA pulls out USC sweep in final seconds after epic battle

UCLA scraped out a second consecutive season win over USC Sunday, 71-67, with free throws in the game’s final seconds.

The Bruins clung to a 68-67 lead with 21 ticks left when Kennedy Burke was fouled. She made the first shot and threw up a bad second shot, which Jordin Canada rebounded. She was fouled and made two free shots to seal the win in front of a raucous crowd of 4,415.

Canada and Burke each had 23 points for host UCLA, while Monique Billings had 12 points and 12 rebounds for her twelfth double-double on the year.

Courtney Jaco, who led the Trojans in Wednesday’s first showdown with their crosstown rivals, with a career-high 27 points, headed up their efforts in the second match up too, with 18 points. Leading scorer and rebounder Kristen Simon, who had missed the previous three games on personal leave, returned to add 16 points and eight boards.

The first game four days earlier was a rout, which the Bruins easily handled, 74-59. Sunday’s match up was a blistering, physical affair that featured eight ties and three lead changes. One of the most intense battles was between guards Jaco and Canada, who played together in high school at the Windward School. They spoke to each other at a game pause, smiling, but each sent the other to the floor once during play. It is the last time the two will face off, as Jaco is a senior.

“I’m just proud of her and how far she’s come,” Canada said of her friend. “It was really great paying against her. She went out on a great note. We tried to stop her down the stretch and we tried to stop her but she found ways to score.”

Jaco said she had been excited to play.

“We just get up for these games,” she said. “It’s rivalry week and this ┬áis my last one. and it meant a lot to me.”

Afterwards, both players told each other, “I love you.”

“We can be friends again,” Jaco said with a laugh.

Simon also played with Jaco and Canada at Windward. Her battles in game two were against Billings, who had a career-high scoring game against the Trojans the game before.

It was UCLA’s 23rd home win, which ties South Dakota for the third-longest in the country, and it was their 15th in a row against Pac-12 opponents, dating back to last season.

The loss was USC’s seventh in a row, as they’ve struggled to adjust to changing lineups with Simon’s absence, and player injuries. But coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke said she was heartened by the pace of her team.

“We definitely took a step in the right direction on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. There were a couple of 50-50 balls here and there. UCLA attempted 33 free throws. We attempted eight. I thought we were pretty aggressive going to the basket. You’re going to have those nights,” she said.

Canada played all 40 minutes of the game. She asked for a sub at one point, but coach Cori Close told her no.

“She called a timeout and told me to take 30 seconds and catch my breath,” Canada said with a smile.

UCLA and USC host Arizona and Arizona State this weekend.