PULLMAN – Seldom this season has Washington State been a team to live and die by the 3-pointer.
But long-range shooting buried the Cougars Saturday night in a rematch with the best team in the conference.
WSU fumbled an opportunity to sweep the Los Angeles schools, connecting on a season-worst 3 of 25 (12%) from the 3-point line in a 76-65 loss to No. 20 USC, which should rise in the AP Top 25 rankings on Monday.
The Cougars (12-9, 5-9) matched their season low and hit a Pac-12 low with only three made shots from beyond the arc. WSU also made three in a nonconference win over Northwestern State, but the Cougars attempted two fewer 3s in that contest. What made an inefficient shooting night even more aggravating Saturday was that WSU kept the Pac-12’s best team within striking distance until the final 2 minutes.
Jaz Kunc airballed a 3-pointer from the left corner, but got the ball back on the other side of the court after two offensive rebounds and banged in WSU’s third 3-pointer of the game to cut USC’s lead to 63-61.
Two possessions later, the game’s momentum swung USC’s way – and permanently – when officials whistled Isaac Bonton for a technical foul, allowing the Trojans to go on an 8-0 run and push their lead to 10 points with 1:13 left. The visitors made five free throws down the stretch to seal a season sweep of WSU.
“I thought we took pretty good (3-pointers) for the most part and SC’s going to play inside-out and they’re going to give you a few,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “You try to make them over their length and we just didn’t execute well late when we were trying to get the ball inside. I was disappointed, we were a little disorganized and I’ll take responsibility for that. But we were in the ballgame and the technical foul, seemed like it changed the momentum a bit. We were just jolted.”
For the second time in as many games, the Cougars had no answer for Tahj Eaddy, USC’s transfer guard who, like Smith, came to the Pac-12 from the West Coast Conference after a two-year stint at Santa Clara. After a 21-point outing against WSU in Los Angeles, Eaddy erupted for 29 points in Pullman, going 10 of 16 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Eaddy had 11 points within the game’s first 6 minutes and 18 by halftime.
“He’s just a really good shooter. He’s slippery, I don’t know,” Smith said. “He doesn’t need much space to make a shot and he’s pretty comfortable doing that. He’s much more comfortable at SC. I’ve always said the WCC’s a really good league because he couldn’t start at Santa Clara and he’s maybe an all-league player, certainly against us.”
USC’s offense was fueled by Eaddy and the defense by Evan Mobley, the Pac-12’s blocks leader, who turned away six WSU shots to bring his season total to 63.
Mobley, who projects to be a top-five NBA draft pick, finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and a team-high two steals. For most of the game, the 7-footer was matched up against another freshman center from California, WSU’s Dishon Jackson, who competed against Mobley on the AAU circuit.
Despite Mobley’s presence in the low post for USC, Jackson had his best game as a college player, finishing with a career-high 18 points, on 8-of-12 shooting, and five rebounds. Jackson’s previous high of 14 points came almost a month earlier in the first game against USC.
“I think it just fires me up a little more, knowing who I’m going against and all the pressure that’s on me to succeed in that particular game,” Jackson said. “I don’t think it’s anything new. I think I just come out playing a little harder.”
Bonton scored 17 points to go with five assists and four rebounds, but he tweaked both of his ankles inside the game’s final minute, getting help from Smith and an athletic trainer as he came off the floor. Smith is optimistic his star point guard will be available for Monday’s game against Washington (3-16, 2-12).
“He’s tough, I think he’ll be back Monday,” Smith said. “He’s a little shook up, but he wants to play in that game Monday. Hopefully, he can.”