USC Basketball Game Preview: Washington State Cougars


USC Trojans (17-12, 9-7) at Washington State Cougars (18-10, 8-8)

Head Coach: Ken Bone (Year 2: 33-19)

Conference: Pac-10


Location: Pullman, WA (Wallis Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum)

Time: 7:00 PM (PDT)

TV: None

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC heads to the state of Washington with sweep on the mind. The Trojans have won five of six and four in a row as they are playing their best basketball of the season. Michael Lev of the OC Register reports that the players believe a sweep is enough to put them in the tournament, but that seems unlikely. However, sweeping in Washington is a necessary step before the Pac-10 tournament begins. Part of the recent success is due to tenacious defense. Arizona tallied just two assists against USC, and Arizona State managed 46 points on just 15 of 49 shooting.

Washington State was riding a two game losing streak, including a perplexing loss to lowly Arizona State, before methodically beating Washington 80-69 in their last outing. The Cougars are a respectable 5-2 in conference at home, but they have lost at home to eight place Stanford. Their promise in the preseason hasn’t translated well to the Pac-10, which is not a very well respected league.

USC’s offense has looked better and better each game during the current hot streak. Part of the upswing is due to the emergence of Alex Stepheson. The big man has been much more aggressive and getting isolation in the paint as the guards spread out the zone with penetration or Vucevic draws the double team away from the basket. Their quick passes have stretched defenses out and made them a much tougher team to defend. Most importantly, they have cut down on their reliance on three point shots. Because they have been able to work the ball inside, the team doesn’t need to take three pointers. Instead, their big men can take close shots or their guards can penetrate and either lay it in or get to the foul line. That also means they have been getting to the free throw line more. USC isn’t particularly great at free throws, but they have been taking advantage as of late. Getting in the bonus early in the half prevents the opponents from being aggressive off of the ball and allows more space to operate the offense. Kevin O’Neill deserves a lot of credit for moving Maurice Jones to the bench and starting Donte Smith to spark the offense.

Klay Thompson is the trigger man for the Cougar offense. The 6′-6″ guard averages 21.4 points per game while shooting 44.6%. When teams play tight defense, the junior can be contained. Marcus Simmons, who will guard the Cougars’ best player again, held Thompson to 6-18 shooting.  Simmons isn’t a big threat on offense, but he is a shut down defender that can really kept Washington’s Isiah Thomas at bay. If USC can hold down the guards, their chances to win will rise exponentially.The only other players who averages double figures are guard Faisal Aden and forward DeAngelo Casto. Aden averages 12.6 points per game and is a good compliment to Thompson. However, Aden struggled mightily and shot 2-11 in the first matchup. Casto, on the other hand, proved effective and led the Cougars with 18 points inside on 8-11 shooting.  The Cougars shoot the ball fairly well, ranking 65th nationally, but we have seen throughout the course of the season that USC has the ability to hold down good shooting teams. Washington State also isn’t a particularly good rebounding team, and USC’s big men must continue to be aggressive near the rim.

Alex Stepheson tweeted that the team had business to take care of, and that he would be back in LA. One of the main reasons this team is playing so well is they have a renewed sense of urgency. They will need it as a trip to the NCAA tournament will likely take a sweep in Washington plus a trip to the Pac-10 tournament finals.