PULLMAN – Playing against the only Pac-12 team Washington State could reasonably have claimed was in worse shape, the Cougars couldn’t even keep it close at home.
WSU hit rock bottom as USC won the basement battle, 79-68.
With only a solid UCLA team remaining on the regular season schedule, WSU (9-20, 2-15 Pac-12) is all but assured of finishing last in the Pac-12. A win on Thursday would’ve put USC in the conference’s cellar.
The two teams entered the game with competitive cases to be the conference’s worst team. The two rank last in scoring offense, scoring margin and field goal percentage. The Cougars have said that their eight-game losing streak has become an opponent in and of itself, and that getting that first win will make subsequent wins easier.
And USC was undoubtedly their best chance to get that win.
“Oh no doubt, no doubt this was a great opportunity and at times we played good basketball, but not good enough to get the job done,” coach Ken Bone said.
USC led by as much as 17 before the Cougars closed late.
Despite an announced crowd of just 2,113, the home court advantage seemed like it would be enough to carry the Cougars to a third Pac-12 win.
After last week’s woeful outside shooting at Washington, where the Cougars made just 4 of 23 3-pointers, they hit 6 of 17 from behind the arc in the first half.
But the Cougars were quickly bereft of whatever injection of offense they were benefitting from. After Byron Weslely broke USC’s drought with a free throw, the Cougars were outscored 44-24 the rest of the way.
“I feel like talent and depth we definitely matched up with them,” Royce Woolridge said. “But just turnovers, which led to their transition points, hurt us. I don’t think it was necessarily them being better than us.”
Wesley finished with 31 points and the Trojans, who are the worse outside shooters in the Pac-12 and shoot 29 percent from beyond the arc, made four of nine 3-point attempts in the second half.
“They were hitting 3-pointers, which they don’t usually do,” Dexter Kernich-Drew said. “We tried to follow the scouting report. They were hitting 3-pointers, I don’t know what else to say.
The Cougars will be heavy underdogs in each of their remaining games. Though they stress that confidence is the key to curing their offensive malaise it is hard to believe you can win when even the worst opponents have their best games.
“I guess we’re still learning but it’s a little bit too late, added Kernich-Drew. “Hopefully we can get this next win and then do something in the (Pac-12) tournament.”