Most meetings between crosstown rivals UCLA and USC in basketball haven’t had compelling enough storylines to pique national interest. That’s not the case this season.
USC hired Andy Enfield, who parlayed his unprecedented success last postseason in guiding No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast into the Sweet 16, bringing his Dunk City brand of hoops to the West.
It turns out that the fast-paced, in-your-face style of play wasn’t limited to the court.
Two statements have the potential to ignite the UCLA-USC basketball rivalry more than in any of the previous 238 meetings.
Enfield, in an article published in the December issue of Men’s Journal, launched the first salvo when responding to a booster’s question about going head-to-head with UCLA and its first-year coach, Steve Alford: “I don’t worry about them. I’ve made it to one Sweet 16 in two years, and he’s made it to one Sweet 16 in 18 years.”
That was intentionally done for an audience. But Enfield’s first verbal jab reportedly happened behind closed doors. He told his team during an October practice attended by a San Jose Mercury-News reporter, “We play up-tempo basketball here; if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.”
Here’s the part where you can insert your own metaphor about a perfectly scripted rivalry for Hollywood.
Enfield tried to walk his practice quote back during Pac-12 media day, saying that he was being sarcastic and “it certainly was not to disrespect Steve or what he’s doing.” Enfield went on to say: “I understand the UCLA-USC rivalry is great for college basketball, as well as all the other sports within the city, and we look forward to being part of that. But I certainly respect what they’re doing and what I said was meant … for my team and for my team only.”
Maybe, but we all heard it now. And surely they did in Westwood, too, no matter how much Alford and the Bruins might try to downplay it.
UCLA can’t feign indifference in this one. USC has won five of the last 11 meetings in Pauley Pavilion (with one Trojans win vacated due to sanctions). Sunday's game is in Pauley.
The Bruins, led by Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, are more talented on paper. But one thing Enfield won’t have to worry about is pace. UCLA averages 85.5 points, which is their highest output since the 1995 national championship team. So much for playing slow.