PULLMAN – No blowups, no ranting, no outbursts. Despite a three-game losing streak, Washington State men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett kept it under control. The Cougars fortunes, he felt, were about to change.
He was right.
And he had a big part in it. Just by keeping quiet.
Before Saturday’s game with USC, the second-year head coach walked into the Cougar locker room, went straight to the white board and wrote “now’s the time.”
Then he turned and walked out.
The Cougars looked around, got up and started clapping.
“This might have been one of the first games where we actually got ourselves … a little riled up to play,” senior guard Kyle Weaver said.
And they took that riled-up attitude out on USC, demolishing the Trojans 74-50, before 9,136 in Beasley Coliseum and a national television audience.
In the process, the Cougars not only frustrated the Trojans’ highly regarded freshmen, O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson, they also triggered an explosion by USC coach Tim Floyd, who was given two technicals and ejected with 4 minutes, 49 seconds left.
But by then WSU’s losing streak – the first of the Tony Bennett era – was history. It was snapped by the Cougars’ effort on the defensive end.
That defense frustrated a USC team that walked onto Friel Court having won six of its last seven games, moving into third place in the conference.
In the Cougars’ earlier 73-58 win in Los Angeles, Mayo scored 22 points, hitting 9 of 17 shots.
Saturday, against Weaver’s tough defense for 33 minutes, Mayo took 15 shots and made just six, finishing with 14 points. It was also a play between he, Weaver and Aron Baynes that triggered Floyd’s exile.
Mayo tried to split a Weaver and Baynes double team at the top of the key, stepped on the former’s foot, went down and lost the ball to Robbie Cowgill.
By the time Cowgill’s lob pass traveled the 50 feet down the court for a Weaver dunk, Floyd was 15 feet out on the court chasing down one of the officials. The ejection followed.
“I’ve never seen a coach walk out there like that without calling time out,” said Weaver, who led WSU with 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting and scored his 1,000 career point with his first basket.
“I watched the replay, you can all go (watch) the replay,” was all Floyd would say afterward. “I can’t talk about it, I would like to coach the next game.”
Which is against conference-leading UCLA, whose only conference defeat was to the Trojans (15-8, 6-5 Pac-10). The fifth-ranked Bruins handed WSU (18-5, 6-5) a 67-59 loss Thursday, the 17th-ranked Cougars’ third in a row, but also a loss Bennett used as an example of why he wasn’t worried about his team.
“If the play was lousy, real lousy, if I didn’t feel like we weren’t taking steps in the right direction, I would have been concerned,” he said.
“I think you have to give Washington State credit,” Floyd said. “They were a team that really channeled their frustration into defense and poise tonight. They guarded us as well as we’ve been guarded all year.”
How well? The Cougars limited USC to 36.4 percent shooting and 19 points in the opening half – lowest in a Pac-10 game.
And WSU won the battle of the boards, 25-22, only yielding six offensive rebounds and 11 second-chance points.
Low joined Weaver and Taylor Rochestie (13 points) in double figures, finishing with 10 points and three assists, part of WSU’s 17 on 28 baskets.
WSU 74, USC 50
Percentages: FG .457, FT .375. 3-Point Goals: 5-10, .500 (Johnson 2-3, Jefferson 1-1, Wilkinson 1-1, Mayo 1-3, Lewis 0-1, Wetherell 0-1). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 2 (Gibson 2). Turnovers: 14 (Mayo 5, Gibson 2, Hackett 2, Johnson 2, Jefferson, Lewis, Cromwell). Steals: 5 (Mayo 2, Jefferson, Lewis, Cromwell). Technical Fouls: TEAM 2.
Percentages: FG .596, FT .786. 3-Point Goals: 7-17, .412 (Harmeling 3-5, Low 2-6, Weaver 1-1, Rochestie 1-4, Forrest 0-1). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 2 (Weaver, Forrest). Turnovers: 9 (Weaver 4, Baynes 2, Low, Koprivica, TEAM). Steals: 9 (Weaver 4, Low 2, Baynes, Rochestie, Forrest). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Washington State 29, USC 19. A—9,136.