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WSU Men's Basketball

WSU hosts USC — and former Cougar forward DJ Rodman — for second clash of season

DJ Rodman, seen here playing for Washington State on Dec. 4, 2022, in Pullman, has since transferred to USC.  (GEOFF CRIMMINS/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

PULLMAN – Shortly before Washington State clashed with USC for the first time this season, an eight-point win early last month in Los Angeles, the Cougars made a decision on their defense.

For the most part, they decided, they would play a matchup zone defense. Under the direction of Jim Shaw, WSU’s associate head coach and defensive guru, the Cougs implemented it because they figured it would help their starters avoid foul trouble and stay more rested as they log heavy minutes.

It worked like a charm in WSU’s win over USC. The Cougs have lost just once using it as their primary defense, an overtime setback to California in late January. In their loss to ASU last weekend, they did play it, but because they struggled to make shots, they didn’t have time to get back and set their defense, leading to more man-to-man possessions – which the Sun Devils abused.

Now Washington State (21-7, 12-5) will put its defense back to the test against USC (12-19, 6-14), which has won two of three games, back on something like the right track upon the return of freshman guard Isaiah Collier, who went down with an injury in that game against WSU in L.A.

“You probably won’t see Collier next year,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “But it’s like, you get this one little small window with him and he’s still a freshman, super talented, and he got hurt. So they had a little lull there and he hurt himself in our game. And that’s just gonna change the dynamics of your team.”

That it did. The Trojans went on to lose their next five games after falling to the Cougs. They handled lowly Oregon State in L.A., then fell to Cal and Stanford in back-to-back games.

But Collier has been back since that Cal game, on Feb. 7, which might indicate that USC still has issues with him back in the fold. He averages 16 points per game on 48% shooting from the field. He’s a key cog in USC’s backcourt, an explosive scorer who posted 12 points against WSU before leaving with his injury.

But as far as individual matchups go, there’s one the Cougs might train their lenses on a tad more. Thursday marks the return of forward DJ Rodman, who played the first four seasons of his career at WSU – and graduated – then announced his plans to come back for another season at last year’s Senior Night, inspiring a loud cheer from the crowd, which was thrilled to have Rodman use his final year of eligibility in Pullman.

A couple of months later, though, Rodman entered the transfer portal. He landed at USC. Since doing so, he landed a host of name, image and likeness deals, ones from exclusive Rodman merch and others from others from national brands like Crocs and Honey Stinger. It matters to Rodman because, contrary to popular belief, he didn’t grow up affluent as Dennis Rodman’s son. Instead, he bounced from apartment to apartment, living in something close to poverty.

“I never want to worry about money again,” Rodman told the Orange County Register. “And growing up, all we had to do was worry about money, ironically. Some people might not believe that, but it’s the reality, so.”

Rodman valued finding a winning situation to spend his final year even more. In September, he said he was “tired of losing.”

“I mean, no disrespect to Washington State where I came from,” Rodman said. “That’s a rebuilding program, and I wanted to spend my last year and win.”

Instead, WSU is the team a half-game back of first place in the Pac-12, and USC is 1½ games out of last place. The Cougs have surged into the AP Top 25, on track to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years, while the Trojans will have their three-year tournament streak snapped this year.

It isn’t lost on Rodman, who is averaging eight points and five rebounds a game, both down slightly from his final year at WSU.

“No bad talk about Washington State, but that’s a very small – and again, it’s not their fault – but it’s a very small market, and not a lot of publicity,” Rodman told the OC Register. “So I don’t regret anything. I don’t regret any decision I make.”

“He’ll probably prepare to get booed. I know our Pullman faithful probably not feeling kindly to that,” Smith said. “He’s a good basketball player, and he’s playing better, which I’m a little bummed about. He was really good in the first half against UCLA, and he’s just a tiger on the boards. He’s making big shots. He’s playing like a fifth-year senior.

“But I’m sure it’ll be emotional for him. It’s against his teammates and a place he lived for four years. Kinda established himself. It’ll be weird, awkward for everyone, a little bit. He’s one of our own, and we still look at him that way.