PULLMAN – So who says this Washington State University Cougars team can’t win scoring 51 points?
Or when Klay Thompson can’t make a basket to save his scoring average?
Or less than 48 hours after their most lackluster effort of the year?
The Cougars disproved all those theories Saturday afternoon, waxing the big, bad USC Trojans big-time on the boards en route to a gut-check, 51-47 Pac-10 Conference win in front of 6,957 at Friel Court.
“This one was pivotal,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “If we had lost this game, I don’t want to say the writing’s on the wall, but if we would have lost this game, another home game, another loss in a row, I think it might (have gotten) difficult to change the mind-set of some of our guys.
“But it’s just the reverse. We beat a very good team, we did it as a team and this is the type of win we needed to head into the last couple weeks of conference play.”
The Cougars came in having lost three straight and six of their last seven, dropping to ninth in the conference. The Trojans, ineligible for postseason, had won four consecutive games, were tied in the loss column with front-runner Cal and had visions of winning a Pac-10 regular-season title.
Desperation trumped momentum. But only barely.
WSU (16-11 overall, 6-9 in conference) broke a tie at 23 early in the second half with a 9-0 run thattook exactly 5 minutes off the clock.
But the big lead – seemingly even bigger due to the lack of offense – slipped away, due in large part to 10 missed second-half foul shots.
USC, which shot 38 percent for the game, couldn’t get over the hump against a Washington State defense that harkened back to teams of the recent past.
Still, with less than a minute left, WSU led just 45-44 and the shot clock was winding down.
The ball went to Reggie Moore. In Los Angeles, Moore had shredded the Trojans in the second half, finishing with 24 points and six assists. In this one he was hobbled a bit by sore legs and hounded by Mike Gerrity and Marcus Simmons. But the Cougars needed a hoop and Thompson had missed all 12 of his shots.
Moore dribbled left, came off a DeAngelo Casto screen, and, with 6-foot-7 Leonard Washington flying at him, let fly a 24-footer.
Moore didn’t see it, but he missed. So badly, in fact, the ball caromed off the backboard and through, helping Moore to a team-high 12 points.
With only 51.4 seconds left, a four-point lead would be enough, even with Thompson and Nik Koprivica each missing two free throws before the buzzer.
When Thompson gathered in Dwight Lewis’ missed 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left, WSU had the last of its 37 rebounds, nine more than the Trojans.
“They were hungry for a win,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said, and nowhere did that hunger show more than on the glass.
The Trojans (16-10, 8-6) entered the day second in the Pac-10 in rebounding, starting a lineup that was taller and heavier at every position than WSU and with a reputation of playing with a physical bent.
“To be able to control those guys on the boards was big, because they are so huge,” Bone said. “Those big kids are extremely good in the paint, good rebounders. Our guys did a great job of screening out.”
WSU 51, USC 47
Percentages: FG .380, FT .778. 3-Point Goals: 2-14, .143 (Johnson 0-1, Vucevic 0-3, Lewis 1-5, Gerrity 0-2, Washington 0-1, Smith 1-2). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Stepheson, Vucevic, Lewis). Turnovers: 13 (Lewis 3). Steals: 8 (Lewis 4). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .386, FT .583. 3-Point Goals: 3-13, .231 (Lodwick 1-3, Thompson 0-3, Moore 2-3, Koprivica 0-3, Thames 0-1). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 5 (Casto 3). Turnovers: 15 (Thompson 6). Steals: 5 (Lodwick, Capers, Thompson, Moore, Thames). Technical Fouls: None. Halftime–WSU 23, USC 19. A–6967.