Bruins hope to dance on USC's court

LOS ANGELES -- The image of USC players dancing in celebration at Pauley Pavilion remains etched in Kyle Anderson's brain.

The Trojans had just upset UCLA, 75-71, in overtime on Jan. 30 at Pauley Pavilion, and like any team that pulls off an upset over a rival, the Trojans were not shy about enjoying the victory at midcourt.

Anderson, a UCLA freshman, considers the moment his indoctrination to the crosstown rivalry between the Bruins and Trojans and would like nothing more than to return the favor when the teams have a rematch on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PT at the Galen Center.

"Before the game, I didn't really think anything of it," Anderson said. "It was just a school rivalry but to lose to them, I really got the hang of the rivalry. I'm sold on it. How excited they looked when they beat us. How they did all the extra stuff on the middle of our court. I'm sold on it now so I'm looking to go do the same thing."

Losing to USC hurt the Bruins. Not only was it a humiliating performance for UCLA against a team with a losing record, it also knocked the Bruins three games out of first place in the Pac-12.

The Bruins now have new life in the Pac-12 title race, and a win would keep them tied for first in the conference with four games to go, but that doesn't mean the Bruins have forgotten how they felt after the loss to USC, feelings that resurfaced during practice this week.

"Seeing how they beat us here, everyone is a little pissed and more intense and angry," UCLA forward Travis Wear said. "We want to go over there, and we want to beat them."

Point guard Larry Drew II said after that loss that he wanted to "kill" USC the next time they played. The Bruins shot 38.2 percent from the field in that game and were two of 19 on 3-point attempts. They overcame a 15-point, second-half deficit to force overtime and had a lead early in the overtime period, but could not close the game.

USC won and erupted in an impromptu celebration at midcourt at Pauley Pavilion. Asked if UCLA players would do the same should they win on Sunday, Anderson left little doubt.

"Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely, absolutely."

Simplified offense pays off: At Stanford last week, UCLA coach Ben Howland simplified the half-court playbook in an effort to jump-start a stagnant offense. He called plays out of only nine sets, essentially cutting the offensive playbook in half.

In past seasons, he said, he has used as many as 45 sets, and this season he has been using 18-20. A recent five-game slump during which the Bruins cracked 40 percent shooting only once got Howland thinking, and after the Bruins shot 37.7 percent in a loss at Cal on Feb. 14, Howland kept it simple the next game at Stanford.

"We went into the game Saturday and I told them, 'OK, these are the nine things that we're going to run,'" Howland said. "That's it. So let's execute what it is that we do and let's really execute those nine simple things well, reading the defense."

The Bruins executed as well as they have since conference play began. They defeated the Cardinal, 88-80, and shot 54.4 percent. It was the most points for UCLA in 16 Pac-12 games and the second-highest field goal percentage for the Bruins in a conference game.

"We're young, and it's just working on execution," Howland said. "What you run doesn't matter, it has to do with how you execute. Are you setting hard screens? Are you cutting hard? Are you coming off ball screens low? Reading at the end of the play. It's about reading what the defense gives you."

Muhammad good to go: UCLA leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Tuesday's session with conjunctivitis. He is expected to play Sunday against USC.