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With apologies to all of the other Southland programs, tomorrow’s showdown between UCLA and USC is to determine who is the top dog in our local college basketball scene. More importantly, the winner will maintain their hold on first place in the Pac-10, which is shaping up to be the toughest conference in the country.

As all of the football fans know, you can throw out records and tradition when it comes to rivalry games because they don’t matter – you can always count on a hell of a fight because of the emotion and pride that the players carry into the game. Last year, the Trojans upset the Bruins late in the season, which provided the motivation and focus for UCLA to win its next 12 en route to the NCAA championship game. But this time around, there is something tangible at stake, with the surprising Trojans far exceeding expectations and matching the Bruins on top of the conference standings. Accordingly, the Galen Center is sold out for the first time ever in anticipation of this matchup, though it is unclear whether it will be USC that actually has the homecourt advantage.

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UCLA has continued where it left off last year, having been the top dog for all of college basketball for a good portion of this season at number one in the polls. The Bruins reeled off 14 straight wins to start off the year before stumbling at Mac Court in Oregon last Saturday. Still, they enter tomorrow’s game ranked third in the country featuring a deep and talented roster. Now in his fifth season, coach Ben Howland has done the same work with the Bruins as he has at his last stops at Northern Arizona and Pitt, turning around a floundering program and building into a winner. The next step is the final one, making a return to the title game but this time raising the 12th championship banner in Pauley.