As we write in our game story – the unedited version of which you'll find on the link – this WSU team can't afford many lapses. And the Cougars had a big one in the first half Thursday. The result was a 61-51 loss at USC, dropping the Cougars to .500 overall and 5-9 in the Pac-10. Read on.
• Here's the game story …
LOS ANGELES – This Washington State men's basketball team can't afford even a little slip in any facet of the game.
The Cougars play on the razor's edge, so a bad game by one of their top three scorers, an off night in one area, and their chance of earning a Pac-10 win, especially on the road, is nearly nil.
Such was the case Thursday night, as USC built a big early lead, saw it all melt away in the second half but pulled away down the stretch for a 61-51 win before 6,352 at the Galen Center.
"The margin of error is not big, that's just the fact of the matter," said WSU coach Tony Bennett after the Cougars dropped to 13-13 overall and 5-9 in conference play.
WSU never seemed to click in a couple areas, the most glaring being on offense in the first 20 minutes.
But that debacle – WSU was 8 of 24 from the floor and went almost 8 minutes without scoring – had a foundation in two other areas: Klay Thompson's surprisingly poor shooting and the team's lackluster defensive effort, especially on the glass.
Thompson, in his first collegiate game in Southern California, an hour or so up I-5 from where he starred at Santa Margarita High, struggled throughout, missing his first eight shots, finishing 2 of 13 from the floor – 1 of 6 from beyond the arc – and scoring just five points.
"If either Klay, Taylor (Rochestie) or Aron (Baynes) struggle, it's hard for us offensively to absorb a cold night by one of those," Bennett said.
Thompson seemed to be the least likely candidate, having scored 25 and 20 in his last two games. But neither of those were against DeMar DeRozan, who guarded him for 32 minutes, and the USC defense.
USC held the Cougars to 14 of 51 shooting in the first meeting between the two, using a variety of defenses. The Trojans stayed in a basic man most of this one and the Cougars were better, but not by much, finishing 19 of 52 overall and 2 of 18 (11.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
Still, despite a 15-0 run by the Trojans (16-9, 7-6) in the first half and despite a 9-2 USC streak to open the second, WSU still had a shot to win.
With freshmen DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers teaming with Rochestie, Nik Koprivica and Caleb Forrest, the Cougars chipped away at USC's 38-24 lead, finally pulling within one at 45-44 on Casto's three-point play with 7:33 remaining.
And when DeRozen missed a baseline jumper, WSU had a chance to take the lead.
"We cut it to one and we came down and, I don't know if we took a little bit of quick shot," Bennett said.
Rochestie, who was 1 of 6 beyond the arc and 5 of 7 inside for a team-high 16 points, came free early in the shot clock and fired a 3-pointer from the left wing.
"I'm mad at myself about that shot, I definitely am," Rochestie said, "because, looking back, it was kind of a key moment. They came down and scored right after that.
"I'm frustrated with myself that I missed the shot. I guess I'm not too mad I took it, but I've got to make those shots."
Taj Gibson grabbed the miss and Dwight Lewis, who missed the first game with a sore ankle, buried a baseline jumper on the other end, part of his game-high 17. That shot keyed a 10-4 USC burst – he ended it with a shot-clock beating 23-footer – that sealed it.
But that might have actually happened in the first half. That's when the Cougars suffered through another long scoring drought.
After Forrest nailed a jumper just inside the arc to tie the score at 6 with 14 minutes, 9 seconds left before halftime, WSU went nearly 8 minutes before scoring again.
In fact, Forrest, who finished with 12 points, was the only Cougar to score in the first 14:31 as USC built a 21-6 lead.
"No," Forrest answered when asked if he ever went that far into a game as his team's only scorer. "I was kind of looking up (at the scoreboard) every once in a while and thinking 'that can't be right.' "
When Rochestie finally got a drive to drop – and the free throw that ensued thanks to USC's first foul – the Cougars snapped a streak that saw them miss six shots and turn the ball over three times.
"We came out and we weren't as ready as we needed to be," Forrest said.
And the Trojans took advantage, rarely missing, scoring on 8 of 11 possessions and building a 15-point lead. As WSU's biggest comeback for a win this season has been 11 points, the diagnosis was bleak.
Especially with USC hitting 42 percent of its shots. And, of the 29 they missed, the Trojans grabbed 12 of them back, leading to a 39-27 edge on the boards.
NOTES: Rochestie led WSU in scoring and rebounding (five). It was the second time this season he's done that, both losses. ... Forrest played 37 minutes, which is a career-high. ... Casto (two) and Baynes (three) combined for five blocked shots. ... WSU had just three turnovers in the second half. ... USC is 13-1 at home. The Trojans snapped a three-game losing streak. ... The Trojans have won the rebound battle 20 times this season. ... UCLA defeated Washington 85-76 and will be battling to stay tied with the Huskies in the loss column Saturday.
• That's it for this now. We'll be back in the morning with our usual day-after post. Until then …