RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.
Malibu made for a relaxing Saturday afternoon, but I was hoping the evening’s Galen Center visit would provide a little more in the way of energy and passion. After all, LA’s two biggest programs were set to renew pleasantries, with the new shine of the offseason coaching hires not yet worn off. UCLA had pounded USC at Pauley Pavilion a month earlier, but a recent string of competitive USC efforts and a supportive home crowd (I hoped) offered a chance for a closer result this time around. That hope found a basis on the floor in the first half when USC, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in Division I basketball, uncharacteristically connected on five of its 10 attempts from long range, propelling them to a six-point halftime lead. That cushion quickly disappeared after intermission, however, as crisp UCLA offense and a more typical Trojans’ shooting performance led to a 24-5 Bruin run to open the half. USC never really threatened after that, ultimately falling to their crosstown rivals by 10.
In its totality, the Galen Center experience was an odd one. The crowd was about 75 percent pro-USC, but they were never totally engaged, even during a first-half that should have given them plenty to cheer about. USC writers told me that this was the loudest the building had been all season, which, given the Trojans’ struggles in Andy Enfield’s first season, isn’t too surprising. Another strange, random observation: The student section was almost entirely male. I don’t typically calculate the student section gender ratio (although I’d assume there are usually more men than women), but it was that striking Saturday night. It may not really matter who comes to games, but the dearth of female students hints at basketball’s lowered place within USC’s extracurricular hierarchy. Any power conference program will attract its share of sports fans (a male-dominated population), but the consistently successful ones have students attending games as a result of school spirit. Right now, USC basketball has little to do with the typical USC undergraduate’s college experience.