McKenzie Forbes scores a season-high 36 in No. 6 USC win

Wasn’t sure if we were doing this, but here is it anyway. Will update with quotes before 6 p.m.

McKenzie Forbes’ season-best 36 points helped No. 6 USC survive Long Beach State’s upset bid on Thursday at Walter Pyramid, leading the short-handed Trojans to an 85-77 win.

The Trojans (10-0) were without star freshman JuJu Watkins and All-Pac-12 forward Rayah Marshall, who both missed the game with an illness. Forbes, a transfer from Harvard, stepped up with her second consecutive season-best scoring night to finish USC’s undefeated nonconference season.

Now the real fun starts.

With No. 2 UCLA routing Hawaii 85-46 at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, the crosstown rivals are set up for a titanic clash on Dec. 30. The conference-opening matchup at Pauley Pavilion will be the first time UCLA and USC have met as two top-10 teams since 1981.

As Forbes put the finishing touches on Thursday’s win, sinking two final free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining, a USC fan seated behind the team’s bench was already thinking ahead.

USC’s Clarice Akunwafo drives past Long Beach State’s Lovely Sonnier in the first quarter Thursday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Clarice Akunwafo battles for a rebound with Lovely Sonnier in the fourth quarter.

Clarice Akunwafo battles for a rebound with Lovely Sonnier in the fourth quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“Beat the Bruins!” he shouted.

While the Bruins coasted through their nonconference finale, the Trojans had to dig deep into their bench while missing three starters. Along with Watkins and Marshall, the Trojans were without forward Kaitlin Davis, who missed her second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury.

Watkins, who played through the illness while still scoring a game-high 23 points against Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, entered the game as the nation’s second-leading scorer with 26.8 points per game.

With Marshall and Davis, a 6-2 forward who transferred from Columbia, the Trojans gave up a 28-18 rebounding advantage during the first half to a team that had just two players 6-foot-2 or taller. The Beach (5-5) outscored USC 20-10 in the paint, but the Trojans held a nine-point halftime lead by forcing 15 turnovers.

Long Beach State, led by 17 points from Savannah Tucker, cut the deficit to four with 2:20 remaining, but the Trojans answered with four consecutive points. A steal by Sydney Woodley with 1:17 remaining gave the Beach a chance to pull within three points, but Long Beach missed two shots in the paint. After finishing the third quarter with eight consecutive made shots, the Beach missed its last seven shots of the game.

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