Taking a second look at Washington State's 90-77 loss to USC in its Pac-12 home opener.
With the exception of a short stretch during the second half, the more athletic, more active Trojans largely outclassed the Cougars. That's not necessarily a shock, nor an indictment of the WSU team. KenPom has USC ranked No. 28 nationally, and projects the Trojans to finish in a tie with Oregon for second-place in the Pac-12, behind Arizona.
USC sure passed the look test on Friday. The Trojans were athletic – just see yesterday's late-night highlight shows for evidence – and skilled, hitting 50 percent from behind the arc against WSU.
Still, WSU started the game flat and took much too long to counterpunch after USC's initial run. The Cougars have a lot to fix before tomorrow's game against a UCLA team that is very talented, albeit likely tired after its double-overtime loss to Washington on Friday.
Here is our story from Friday's game, postgame videos of Ernie Kent and the players, and a box score.
-- The Cougars shoot the ball well, but they need to get to the free throw line more often. Teams have started to play zone against the Cougars more, which on its surface seems like a puzzling decision. As a team, the Cougars hit 37.6 percent of their 3-point attempts and have an effective shooting percentage of 54.2, which is also very good.
But perhaps teams are willing to concede the 3-pointers because the young Cougars have struggled to penetrate zone defenses either by driving or passing. WSU's free throw rate of 28.4 ranks No. 317 among all Division I teams. The Cougars are actually a good free throw shooting team – mostly because forward Josh Hawkinson is shooting 83 percent on the year and has taken the most shots at the line of any Cougar – but have been very bad at getting to the charity stripe.
-- Kent has shortened his bench recently, but we still may see some movement in who plays. Specifically, Derrien King has responded well to increased playing time, while veterans Brett Boese and Junior Longrus saw their minutes increase against the Trojans. That might partially have just been Kent's desire to rest his starters in a blowout, but the veterans sparked a run that almost made things interesting with about four minutes left to play.
Longrus played quite a bit as a sophomore under Ken Bone and saw his minutes decrease under Kent last year. While he is an offensively limited player, he's a very good offensive rebounder. Ultimately, the fact that Boese and Longrus have been through the Pac-12 wars before likely gives them inherent value in these games where the newcomers appear to be shell-shocked.
Here are some extra notes from the game:
-- Steve Puidokas set the school record for consecutive double-doubles with nine during the 1975-76 season. Josh Hawkinson will tie that record if he records a double-double against UCLA.
-- Ike Iroegbu scored 13 points on Friday. He's now reached double-digits in five consecutive games.
-- The Cougars have lost eight consecutive Pac-12 openers.
And here's a few player quotes that didn't make the game story:
Josh Hawkinson: "I think just from the jump they came out and they were more focused, more aggressive and pretty much just took us to it from the very beginning and set the tone that they sustained throughout the rest of the game. … I think they improved in their transition. I think last year we did a really good job of locking that up and making them a half-court team. But they got a lot of easy buckets today, which gave them even more energy to come out and lock us up on defense, which I think was the primary factor today between last year and this year."
Ike Iroegbu: "They're a good team. They have a lot of players that can grab the rebound and push it and we didn't do a good job of handling it."
Junior Longrus: "I think it was an energy issue. We're in the Pac-12, I mean I think that's a perfect example of the league we play in. Every team has 10 guys that are crazy athletic, guys that can shoot, quick guards. Like I said, it's going to be up to us to go to practice tomorrow and look at ourselves in the mirror and see the problems we had and see the places we can get better and know it's going to be like that every night we play in the Pac-12. So it's something that's in our control, something we've got to change.