UCLA stymies USC's rally to hand Trojans 8th straight loss

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA was swept in both meetings against crosstown Pac-12 rival Southern Cal last season. The 17th-ranked Bruins returned the favor this year.

Nirra Fields and Thea Lemberger each scored 12 points as UCLA held off USC's big second-half rally to beat the Trojans for the second time in six days, 63-58 on Sunday.

Lemberger made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the win for the Bruins (21-6, 12-4).

"I have confidence going to the line late in the game," said Lemberger, who also had four rebounds, four assists and two steals. "We made it hard on ourselves. We need to work on certain situations. I'm not worried cause we'll continue to work hard."

The Trojans (8-19, 5-11) lost their eighth consecutive game -- and 11th of 12 -- with two games remaining.

On Tuesday, UCLA defeated USC 68-54, and have beaten the Trojans in six of their last eight meetings. USC's 19 losses this season are the second-most in the program's history.

"It's fun to play in big basketball games," Trojans coach Michael Cooper said. "Despite 19 losses we still have a lot of fire and spirit. We're playing the No. 17 team in the country and we have positives that came out of this game."

UCLA coach Cori Close was happy to close out the Bruins' home schedule on a positive note.

"The game was such a mixed bag," Close said. "Give credit to USC they played aggressively and put up a good fight. We have a lot of respect for them.

"We had to find a way to sacrifice to get this win and we found a way to do that. Games at this point of the season are pressurized. We're lucky to have two freshmen (Kari Korver and Fields) with confidence to play as well as they did.

"We have a clear mission and we want to become a top 10 program and sustain excellence."

The Bruins, who lost to California and Stanford last weekend, are currently third in the conference. UCLA's four conference losses have all been against the Bears and Cardinal (twice each).

Markel Walker and Lemberger combined for 11 rebounds, nine assists and five steals to lead the Bruins (21-6, 12-4), who have won eight of 10.

Fields' basket with 9:09 to play gave the Bruins a 47-32 lead. However, the Trojans cut the lead to 51-50 on a basket by Cassie Harberts with 3:05 remaining.

Korver followed with a 3-pointer and Walker added a basket to give the Bruins a 56-52 cushion with 1:09 left. Lemberger and Mariah Williams (2 for 2) sealed UCLA's win from the free-throw line in the final 30 seconds.

Walker also scored 11 points for UCLA. Atonye Nyingifa had nine rebounds and Jasmine Dixon grabbed seven boards for the Bruins. UCLA finished the regular season at home with an 11-4 mark.

Harberts made 7 of 12 shots and led USC with 22 points and 11 rebounds -- her 8th double-double of the season.

"We needed a fire lit under us at halftime," said Harberts, who made 8 of 11 free throws and has attempted more free throws -- 258 -- than any other player this season in Division I. "We came out stronger in the second half but we still have a lot to work on."

Ariya Crook had 16 points and six rebounds for the Trojans.

Both teams got off to slow starts.

Dixon, was knocked to the floor and injured at the 17:33 mark of the first half. She left the game, but returned 4 minutes later. The Bruins' other starting forward, Alyssia Brewer, committed her second foul at 15:46 and only played 9 minutes in the first half.

After taking an 8-4 lead, USC went more than 6 minutes without scoring a basket. The Bruins took advantage and went on an 8-0 run. Brewer's free throw gave UCLA a 12-8 lead with 9:05 left in the half.

A 3-pointer by Fields and baskets by Kacy Swain and Lemberger pushed the Bruins to a 21-12 lead with 4:42 remaining in the opening half.

A free throw by Harberts with 1:00 to go cut UCLA's lead to 27-22 at the break.

"They got to the loose balls and they outrebounded us in the first half," said USC senior forward Christina Marinacci. "I was embarrassed by our effort out there. We have to play with more passion and do all of the little things you need to do to win the battle."

The Trojans finished with 22 turnovers and shot 35.1 percent (20 for 57).

Both teams shot 30 percent in the first half. Harberts led the Trojans with seven points and six rebounds and Fields had six points for UCLA.

In a pregame ceremony, UCLA seniors Williams, Walker, Brewer and Dixon were honored in their final home game. Marinacci was also recognized by the UCLA home crowd.

"It's been an incredible year," said Brewer.