Thanks to some help from the rest of the conference, USC had an opportunity to jump into a four-way tie for 5th place in the Pac-12, against a team that was far superior in many aspects of the game.
The Trojans (10-13, 5-5) played uninspired for most of the game, but made enough plays late to defeat the Washington State Cougars 72-68, improving their record to 5-5 in Pac-12 play.
Washington State (11-12, 2-8) follwed a strong push in the first half with a 7-4 jolt to give them an eight point lead with 15 minutes to play in the game.
The Cougars may have had less overall talent, but they were the team setting the tempo and putting USC on its heels. This was a good challenge for USC, but one that few at Galen expected.
The Trojans responded by relying upon their shot-maker JT Terrell to make plays, and the biggest stretch of the night came as Terrell hit two straight three-pointers with 7:51 to play. Terrell finished the night with 12 points but was vastly out-shined by less vocal Trojans.
Byron Wesley came out firing in the first half, shooting 4-5 from the field to give USC a solid scoring boost. The sophomore finished the night with a season-high 20 points and eight rebounds. By the end of the first half, Wesley had recorded double-digit points leading their 30 point effort.
Washington State was led by a balanced attack of DaVonte Lacy, Mike Ladd and Brock Motum who chipped in 52 of the Cougars 68 points. Lacy was hitting 3-PT all night long, exposing the Trojans’ poor zone defense. This is nothing new for Lacy, who scored 22 points against Gonzaga, carrying the team offensively.
The Trojans limited Australian-power Brock Motum to 6-16 shooting mainly in part due to Dewayne Dedmon’s physicality in the post. D.J. Shelton, the other post threat for Washington State, could only muster four points on the night as USC clogged the lane with a sense of purpose.
Washington State was leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense, but the Trojans responded by driving to the rack and getting to the free throw line. USC shot an impressive 22 free throws on the night, using ball movement and strong shot selection to have a nice flow to the basketball game.
In a matchup of Woolridge step-brothers, Royce got the early hand early scoring 10 more points than Renaldo. Royce had a poor game defensively but played strong against JT Terrell for most of the first half. A nice moment was exchanged before the game between the close-nit players.
The Cougars were able to keep the game close because of their perimeter shooting, making 10 shots from downtown. The Trojans played zone defense for long stretches of the game, and kept Washington State scoreless for a pivotal six minute stretch in the second half.
Head Coach Bob Cantu will not be overwhelmed by his teams performance, but in the end winning games is the best recipe for a team with growing confidence. Cantu will be satisfied with the fact that Ari Stewart scored 10 points and hit some key perimeter shots.
In some of what of a staggering stat, USC has averaged the third-most points in conference play this season, which can largely be attributed to Cantu’s desire to push tempo.
The Trojans have scored over 70 points in six conference games this season, a vast improvement from 2012. Unfortunately they have only won by a combined nine points in our last three victories, and are continuing to struggle putting teams away once the lead is in the Trojans grasp.
Defense has to be a concern for this team moving forward after allowing the worst-scoring offense in the Pac-12 to fire up 68 points on the night. The Trojans defense has declined in terms of PPG, but the more concerning stat is offensive rebounding that opposing teams continue to dominate. The Cougars grabbed eight offensive rebounds, which is unacceptable given USCs size and athleticism.
The second-consecutive victory moves USC into a five-way tie for fifth place in the Pac-12 Conference with Washington coming to Galen Center on Sunday. The Washington State Cougars have lost five of their last six games, falling into a tie for last place with the Utah Utes.