A four-game California road swing for Washington State culminated with one victory and three reminders of where the Cougars need to improve before they can start stacking up wins against the Pac-12 Conference’s best teams.
After an 11-point win over California, the Cougars suffered a 15-point loss to Stanford, a 30-point blowout at the hands of UCLA and finally an eight-point defeat at USC Saturday night. Of those four, Cal is the only team with a sub-.500 record, while the other three are a combined 30-9. UCLA and USC, both holding 11-2 records, will be sure-fire candidates for the AP Top 25 when Monday’s poll comes out.
At the Galen Center, where WSU’s No. 25 women lost an overtime nailbiter to the Trojans on Friday night, the Cougar men also came up empty-handed, trailing from tipoff to the final buzzer in a 85-77 loss to a red-hot USC squad that’s won six consecutive and eight of its past nine games.
Despite a spirited second half from WSU and sophomore guard Noah Williams, who scored 13 of his 14 points after halftime playing with four fouls, the Cougars committed 15 turnovers and were largely unable to contain Santa Clara transfer Tahj Eaddy, who led the Trojans with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
WSU’s Isaac Bonton scored 20-plus points for the fourth time in five games, finishing with 27 to go along with four assists. Freshman center Dishon Jackson scored a career-high 14 points – eight more than his previous high – and grabbed seven rebounds. Efe Abogidi had the first Pac-12 double-double of his career, scoring 10 points to go with 12 rebounds and two blocks.
“We’ve got to be back to defending better and we gave up some silly points in transition,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “We’d save the ball under our basket, things that are avoidable. We have been turning the ball over too much – 15 is way too many for the way they play. They just usually defend you around the rim and run you off the 3.”
WSU leaves the Golden State at 9-4, 2-4 in the Pac-12 . WSU returns home to play Utah on Thursday and Colorado on Saturday.
Even as USC raced out to its largest lead of the game, at 15 points with 7:30 to play, WSU, coming off its most lopsided loss since the 2019 Pac-12 Tournament, realized it had more in the tank and went on an 11-0 run to trim the deficit to 73-69 with 4:30 to play.
The Trojans’ Mobley brothers – Isaiah and Evan – scored the next three points, but Williams made a 3-pointer from the right elbow to make it 76-72. USC responded to that, too, scoring the game’s next six points to reestablish a double-digit lead and the Cougars squandered two more opportunities to make it a two-possession game, as Bonton and Williams missed consecutive shots inside the final minute.
“They started letting up,” Jackson said. “They got comfortable with the lead they had and they just started letting up. We put our foot hard on the gas and when they started pushing back, we kind of let up. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”
A WSU team that hangs its hat on defense has now allowed 251 points, or 83.6 points per game, in its last three contests. The Cougars (49.1%) shot a better clip from the field than the Trojans (46.4%), but gave up seven more turnovers and were doubled up on the offensive glass, grabbing seven offensive rebounds to USC’s 14.
The Cougars have now gone two full games without holding an advantage and only led for 20 seconds in their loss to Stanford at Santa Cruz.
“I think our offense has been getting better the last six games, but unfortunately our defense has taken a slide backward, but that comes with – I don’t know what it is, youth, inexperience,” Smith said. “I would’ve really liked to get that thing down, we had a chance to get that thing down to the wire and we didn’t.”
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