What does Washington State need to do tonight to avenge the two-point loss to USC in the Palouse? A couple of things. Read on.
• We're sorely tempted to skip tonight's game and head across the street to listen to George Takei talk on campus. Maybe he'll talk about the trouble with tribbles. But no, I've got to stay here in the Galen Center and watch hoop. So what's the trouble with the Trojans? What kind of problems will they present for WSU?
For most of the first game in Spokane, Aron Baynes controlled Taj Gibson, not allowing the USC center to get good looks around the basket or to put the ball on the floor and go around him. But, with about 10 minutes left, the way Baynes was guarding Gibson was all of sudden illegal. The same contact that, for 30 minutes, was considered incidental became the basis for a whistle. Before it was over Baynes had fouled out and Gibson had 12 points – six at the foul line. If Gibson gets to shoot 10 free throws again, the Cougars will be in trouble.
The other wild card tonight is Dwight Lewis. The Trojans' leading scorer didn't play in Pullman with a sprained ankle. He's been back, but tweaked his ankle again this week in practice. He's expected to play but who knows? And who knows how effective he'll be. If he's on, he gives USC a threat it didn't have in Pullman. If he's hurting, then WSU can concentrate on keeping USC outside the key – something the Cougars strive to do anyway – with little worry of being shot down from outside.
• On the other end, WSU expects the Trojans to use at least some junk defense, more than likely the triangle-and-two they used for a while in Pullman. The Cougars will attack it differently tonight, using the two players being manned, probably Klay Thompson and Taylor Rochestie, as screeners early in the possession, forcing the defense to either switch or, at the very least, think about switching. That should slow the defensive rotation enough to free the shooters with other screens. But no matter what defense USC plays, the Cougars have to shoot better than the 14-of-51 showing in Pullman. If they don't, mail this one into the office as a USC win.
• The Cougar traveling party includes some veteran coaches. Dick Bennett is in town, watching his old team. And Mike Woodley, football coach at Iowa's Grandview College and assistant coach Matt's dad, is also in the stands. And that doesn't even include players' parents.
• That's it for this now. We'll post again at halftime. Until then …