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 zero.
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,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said after the Cougars dropped to 13-13 overall and 5-9 in conference play.
WSU never seemed to click in a couple of areas, the most glaring being on offense in the first 20 minutes.
WSU was 8 of 24 from the floor and went almost 8 minutes without scoring, but that had its 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, near 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 was 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 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 45-44 on Casto’s three-point play with 7:33 remaining.
When DeRozan 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, because, looking back, it was kind of a key moment,” Rochestie said. “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 that sealed it.
But that might have actually happened in the first half.
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.
USC 61, Washington State 51
Percentages: FG .365, FT .733. 3-Point Goals: 2-18, .111 (Forrest 0-1, Thompson 1-6, Rochestie 1-6, Lodwick 0-1, Harmeling 0-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 6 (Forrest, Baynes 3, Casto 2). Turnovers: 9 (Baynes, Capers, Thompson 3, Rochestie, Koprivica 2, Casto). Steals: 3 (Forrest, Thompson, Rochestie). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .420, FT .773. 3-Point Goals: 2-3, .667 (Hackett 1-2, Lewis 1-1). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 3 (DeRozan 2, Simmons). Turnovers: 9 (Gibson, Vucevic 2, Hacket 2, Lewis 2, Washington 2). Steals: 3 (DeRozan, Vucevic, Lewis). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–USC 29, Washington St 21. A–6,352.