LOS ANGELES – For those of you wondering what would happen to this edition of the Washington State men’s basketball team if it shots weren’t falling, here’s your answer.
The Cougars lose.
At least they did Friday afternoon, dropping a 60-56 decision to USC in the Galen Center before a quiet New Year’s Eve crowd announced at 3,581.
“We played the game plan,” said WSU coach Ken Bone. “We tried the best we could and we didn’t do what we usually do really well.
“We didn’t make shots.”
The Cougars’ outside trio of Klay Thompson (6 of 18, 17 points), Reggie Moore (2 of 11, 7) and Faisal Aden (2 of 11, 4) combined to miss as many shots against USC’s man-to-man defense as the Trojans did as a team.
And still, despite shooting a season-low 36.7 percent from the floor, despite trailing by 13 points with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left, despite playing their sixth game on this road trip, the Cougars still had a chance to pull out a win.
“Being down to them is tough,” said Bone of the patient Trojans (9-6 overall and 1-1 in Pac-10 Conference play). “We’ve really got to work to come back. They’ll milk that clock every possession if they can.”
After Alex Stepheson (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Nikola Vucevic (12 and 11) played volleyball with Maurice Jones’ miss – Stepheson finally getting the ball to drop – USC led 58-45.
“We had to have a sense of urgency,” Bone said. “And I like the way we came back.”
DeAngelo Casto started it with a post move, the last of his game-high 18 points (on 8 of 11 shooting), and WSU finally started to get stops.
Jio Fontan, the recently eligible point-guard transfer from Fordham, helped immensely, missing the front end of two one-and-ones. A Moore drive with a free throw tacked on, a 23-footer by Thompson and an Abe Lodwick 3-pointer cut the lead to two, 58-56, with 1:19 remaining.
“We almost blew it with free throws,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “They’re the kind of team that makes you pay if you make mistakes.”
The Cougars tried. Instead of fouling, they played solid defense, finally allowing a 3-pointer to Jones out of the left corner with about 40 seconds left to play.
It missed and bounced long. The 6-foot-6 Thompson battled Marcus Simmons and the 6-10, 250-pound Stepheson for the rebound on the weakside, tipping it twice before controlling it.
“When we need a rebound like that, he gets it,” Marcus Capers said of Thompson, who finished with 10 rebounds.
On the other end, Moore got a good look but missed, and USC tipped the ball out of bounds with 21.2 seconds left. O’Neill called time. The Cougars set up a play for Thompson, the nation’s 10th-leading scorer.
Taking the ball on a handoff from Casto, he was isolated on the left side against Simmons, the 6-6 senior who hounded him all game. Driving, Thompson attracted a crowd but found the open man, Lodwick, in the right corner.
“I thought he would pull up and shoot a 3, but he’s got the freedom to make a play,” Bone said. “He drove it and made a wise pass to Abe, but the ball got deflected.”
Vucevic, the 6-10 post who had 28 in the Trojans’ Pac-10-opening loss to Washington, got a finger on the pass, deflecting the ball just enough that Lodwick couldn’t handle it and it trickled out of bounds.
It was just the Cougars’ eighth turnover. And their last chance.
Smith made two free throws with 10.5 seconds left and, after Moore’s ninth miss rimmed off, WSU’s comeback had failed.
The Cougars headed home after 14 days on the road with a 10-4 overall mark, 0-2 in Pac-10 play.
And they knew why this loss happened.
“The shots didn’t fall,” Capers said.
“I thought we executed,” said Casto, who not only led the Cougars in scoring, but also pulled down eight rebounds and neutralized USC’s bigs on the defensive end. “We came off screens hard, we had open shots, we had good pick-and-rolls, good pick-and-pops.
“Our game plan was executed pretty well, we just couldn’t finish it off.”