USC (15-6) at UCLA (17-4)

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  • Game info: 10:30 pm EST Wed Feb 4, 2009
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Darren Collison got a break in his last game, with UCLA’s rout putting it into a tie for first place in the Pac-10. Against USC, though, the senior guard rarely gets much rest.

Collison and the 15th-ranked Bruins look to create some distance between themselves and the Trojans in the conference standings Wednesday night as the crosstown rivals meet for the second time this season.

Collison is averaging 31.2 minutes per game, but was needed for only 26 and scored 15 points in UCLA’s 97-63 win over Stanford on Saturday.

He had played at least 30 minutes in four straight games, but the Bruins (17-4, 7-2) were never in danger against the Cardinal and were able to give their star a break while gaining a share of first place in the Pac-10. UCLA is tied with Washington, and Southern California (15-6, 6-3) is in the hunt.

The Bruins beat the Trojans 64-60 on Jan. 11 in the teams’ first meeting of the season. Just how important Collison is to UCLA was evident in that contest.

Collison had 18 points and six assists while playing 39 minutes. That Collison would be used so extensively in this emotional rivalry is no surprise.

He has made six career starts versus USC, averaging 37.3 minutes and 15.0 points a contest. Collison has played 39 minutes in each of the last two meetings.

This season, no other UCLA player is averaging more than 27.5 minutes. Ten Bruins logged at least 10 minutes against Stanford as UCLA had its highest-scoring Pac-10 game in coach Ben Howland’s six seasons.

UCLA shot 63.3 percent in its second straight win after losing two of three.

“There’s so much expectation heaped on their shoulders,” Howland said. “They handled that adversity and bounced back.”

The Bruins have used intensity on defense to spark their offense. They forced 19 turnovers against Stanford and 21 in an 81-66 victory over California on Thursday.

“It’s starting on the defensive end. We wanted to raise our level of intensity on the ball,” Collison said. “We’ve been wanting to push it all year long. We have the weapons and the talent. Now we’re getting stops and easy baskets.”

UCLA’s first matchup with USC, though, was tightly contested, with the Bruins prevailing despite shooting 42.0 percent. The Trojans shot 49.0 percent, and DeMar DeRozan led the team with 15 points.

The freshman forward had a game-high 19 points in USC’s 73-62 win over Cal on Saturday night. DeRozan was outstanding on both ends of the floor as the Trojans won their third straight and fifth in their last six games.

He shot 8-of-12 and helped limit Golden Bears sharpshooter Theo Robertson in check. Robertson, who leads the nation in 3-point shooting at 56.9-percent, missed his lone attempt from beyond the arc and finished with four points.

“I really try to use my defense to create my offense,” DeRozan said. “I know we can get out and get easy baskets when were defending well.

“In high school, I always had to play against the other teams best player and it would usually be, who outscores who, but coach (Tim Floyd) emphasizes defense. Its college and you really have to go out and guard.”

DeRozan is one of four players averaging double figures in scoring for USC. Junior forward Taj Gibson leads the Trojans with 14.9 points a contest. He had 13 points in last month’s matchup with the Bruins.

UCLA has won three straight and eight of 10 against USC, and leads the series 127-100. The Trojans won last season’s game at Pauley Pavilion, 72-63.

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