Of all the non-televised games this season, this was probably the one that should have been shown in the Northwest. After playing ugly – put that on USC, it makes everyone play ugly – in the first half, trailing 34-24, and continuing that trend early in the second, WSU woke up. And basically just battled to a victory. We have our game story on the link, so read on.
• Here’s the gamer …
LOS ANGELES – For one night, at least, it wasn’t how the Washington State Cougars started, it was how they finished.
And they couldn’t have done much better.
Missing just one shot in the final 8 minutes, 41 seconds, WSU was able to rally from a 15-point second-half deficit and overcome USC, 67-60, before 4,422 rain-drenched fans at the Galen Center.
“Our guys are fairly relentless,” said WSU coach Ken Bone, emerging from a loud locker room. “They keep trying, keep battling most every minute.”
The 15-point lead? It came with 17:26 left, was 41-26 and, the way USC plays – stingy defensively, patient offensively – and was playing Thursday – attacking the offensive glass, forcing turnovers – it seemed safe.
After all, at that point WSU, the Pac-10’s best shooting team, was hitting just 30 percent of its attempts and had turned the ball over nine times.
But neither Reggie Moore nor Klay Thompson were going to let the Cougars go gently into the rainy Southern California night.
It was around this point Moore, a freshman who plays at times like a senior, got ticked off and decided to do something about it.
“They were kind of talking a little bit,” said Moore of the Trojans (11-7 overall, 3-3 in Pac-10 play). “It kind of got under (my skin), so I wanted to take it to them a little bit. I knew the game was on the line.”
And he brought along Thompson, the conference’s leading scorer whose family lives down the road in Orange County.
“I told Klay, ‘let’s go man,’ ” said Moore, who finished with a game-high 21 points, including eight in the final 6:29. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Klay pumped up like that. I know he’s home and stuff. It’s just good to get the win, especially for him.”
WSU (14-5, 4-3) fueled the comeback with offensive execution, in the form of simply putting the ball in Moore’s hands.
After they chipped the big lead down to a manageable four with 12:44 remaining – Thompson hit his only 3-pointer, part of his 20 points, to cut the lead to 42-38 – the Cougars fell back 48-40 on Marcus Simmons’ tip-in with 9 minutes on the clock, one of 15 offensive rebounds USC had.
But WSU would score on its next possession – DeAngelo Casto hit one of two free throws, a Cougar malady as they were just 17 of 29 from the free-throw line – and then score on each possession the rest of the way.
“We’re more patient,” senior Nik Koprivica explained. “We’re looking for better shots and we’re hitting shots, thank god.”
It was Koprivica, coming off the bench again to hit 3 of 4 3-pointers as part of 13 points, who put the Cougars ahead for good, nailing a 24-footer from the left corner off one of Moore’s six assists.
“Reggie found me,” said Koprivica, whose shot gave WSU a 54-53 lead. “I was wide open and I had to shoot. I’m shooting well this year so I have to keep shooting. Hopefully, I’ll keep making them.”
Moore’s pass came after he broke down USC point guard Mike Gerrity, the senior transfer who is credited with leading a Trojan revival this season. But Gerrity, who finished with 10 points and six assists, was in foul trouble all night – he guarded Moore – and was passive down the stretch.
“He was backing up,” Moore said. “There was not much they could do about it.”
With the defense getting stops – USC had four turnovers down the stretch – and Moore taking the ball to the rim, WSU steadily pulled away in the final minutes, hitting its last eight shots.
“The kid that killed us was Moore,” said USC coach Kevin O’Neill, who added he hasn’t seen a better Pac-10 point guard this season. “He took us apart. We just didn’t keep the ball in front of us.”
And the Cougars, who have struggled at the beginning of games recently, put USC behind them.
“We’re a young team and we’re going to have our ups and downs,” Koprivica said. “We’ve got to battle. We just want to play with energy. You see when we play with energy, we’re down by 15 but we came back so easy.”
• That’s it for tonight. Thanks for all the well wishes folks. I really appreciate it. We’ll be back in the morning with our day-after post. Until then …