LOS ANGELES – In front of a library crowd against a bad basketball team with approximately nothing on the line, Washington State achieved what was needed.
Or, perhaps more accurately, what was wanted.
The Cougars didn’t really need to do anything at the Galen Center on Saturday, but their 43-38 hide-your-eyes win over lowly USC at least allows WSU (15-15, 7-11 Pac-12) to enter next week’s Pac-12 tournament with a better feeling than it had 48 hours before.
WSU, the No. 8 seed, will play the tournament’s opening game at noon on Wednesday against No. 9 Oregon State, which finished with a similar 7-11 Pac-12 record. The Cougars, who would have played Oregon State regardless of the outcome of their own game, earn the higher seed thanks to their regular-season sweep of the Beavers (17-13, 7-11).
Asked if his team accomplished what he wanted, coach Ken Bone said, “Yes. We got the win, and nobody got hurt.”
Maybe not physically. But this one may have been painful to watch for the 3,102 people scattered across the posh arena’s maroon seats.
USC (6-25, 1-17) needed more than 7 minutes to score its first points, a 3-pointer by Maurice Jones that cut WSU’s lead to 8-3 with 12:52 to play in the first half.
Yet the Cougars led just 21-14 at halftime despite making 50 percent of their shots. The Trojans were far worse, sinking just five field goals in 23 attempts, three of those makes by Jones, who was the only USC player in double figures with 11 points.
Brock Motum seemed keen on adding some separation. The junior forward scored 13 of his game-high 27 points in the first 3:31 of the second half, pushing the Cougars to a 39-22 lead with 13:31 to play that seemed as secure as any.
“We weren’t converting as well as we could on offense and weren’t up by as much as we could have been if we’d converted some of the easy looks, because it wasn’t giving our defense enough credit,” Motum said. “I wanted to come out aggressive and make sure our defense was getting rewarded and the score would reflect that.”
Here’s how bad USC’s offense was – the Cougars stopped scoring, USC ran off a 16-4 run over the final 11:37, and WSU still won the game.
“The beginning of the second half doomed us,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said.
The Cougars’ final field goal came at the 9:09 mark. Alexis Moore got loose for a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which cut WSU’s lead to 41-38. Greg Allen had a chance to tie the game but missed a corner 3-pointer badly with 36 seconds left, and Reggie Moore made a pair of free throws – WSU’s first points since a Motum bucket nearly 9 minutes prior – that provided the final margin.
“It was an ugly game and we gave up a 17-point lead, and we didn’t score with X-amount of minutes left in the game, on and on and on and on,” Bone said. “But at the end of the day, our guys persevered, and it’s hard to do that, especially on the road.”
The Cougars will remain in Los Angeles until Wednesday, when they face a Beavers team that closed the regular season with a home sweep of Utah and Colorado.
WSU beat OSU twice this season, most recently 83-73 in Corvallis on Feb. 9.
“They’re a great team,” said WSU guard Mike Ladd, who had 11 rebounds. “I know they’re going to come out hungry, ready to win, especially since we beat them twice already.”
“I think they honestly have as much talent as any team in our conference,” Bone said.
Percentages: FG .429, FT .545. 3-Point Goals: 1-8, .125 (Motum 1-2, Lodwick 0-1, Moore 0-2, Lacy 0-3). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 4 (Capers, Lacy, Motum, Moore). Turnovers: 11 (Moore 3, Shelton 2, Capers, Ladd, Kernich-Drew, Motum, Lodwick). Steals: 0.
Percentages: FG .289, FT .600. 3-Point Goals: 6-21, .286 (Moore 3-3, Jones 2-7, Allen 1-6, Strangis 0-1, Munoz 0-1, Jackson 0-3). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 1 (Jones). Turnovers: 6 (Jones 3, Wesley, Munoz, Jackson). Steals: 5 (Jones 4, Jackson).
Halftime—Washington St. 21-14. A—2,107.