USC: Ken Bone

USC-Washington State: As close to a must-win as it gets in December

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
1:49
PM PT
A few notes and things to pay attention to during today's 3 p.m. game:
  • This one's interesting. Washington was supposed to be the class of the Pac-10, and USC clearly went blow-for-blow with the Huskies in a 73-67 overtime loss Wednesday. Washington State was predicted to be more on the Trojans' level at the start of the season but had the best preseason of any Pac-10 team and was gaining traction as the potential Pac-10 team to beat. Then UCLA beat the Cougars fairly handily, and now both USC and WSU are in dire need of a win to set themselves up at .500 after the first conference weekend. The goal for USC just last week was to win every Pac-10 home game, according to junior guard Jio Fontan. Now it's to win every remaining Pac-10 home game. But with six (and potentially seven) losses on the Trojans' resume already, this is as close to a must-win as it gets this early in the season.
  • The key for USC is simple. Fontan and Nikola Vucevic have not both played well in one game since Fontan became eligible against Kansas nearly two weeks ago. Vucevic was beastly against Washington; Fontan played great against Lehigh and solid in a road win at Tennessee. The two need to work well together and well incorporating the rest of the team. It's a small wonder the Trojans managed to score 67 points against Washington (albeit with an extra five minutes) given how bad their offense was. Not a single player other than Vucevic shot better than 3-of-7 from the field, and Kevin O'Neill's sets seemed ineffective within seconds of calling them. Assuming the rest of the Trojans rebound naturally, an effective Vucevic-Fontan tandem should do the trick today.
  • The players to watch for the Cougars: Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden. Thompson, a junior, is averaging almost 23 points per game this season and hasn't scored fewer than 15 points in WSU's 13 games. He ripped the Trojans up for 20 points in a seven-point win in Los Angeles last January but later had his worst game as a collegian at home against the Trojans in February, scoring two points on 0-for-12 shooting. It'll be USC defensive specialist Marcus Simmons guarding him at the tipoff Friday and for as much of the game as Simmons' anemic offense will allow. Aden, a junior-college transfer in his first year with the Cougars, is much more of an unknown than Thompson. But his numbers have been great, with the 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard shooting better than 50 percent from the field and averaging 16-plus points per game.
  • Of course, Washington State also has sophomore point guard Reggie Moore, who O'Neill was very worried about preparing for last season and lavished praise upon after playing against him. With a potent three-guard attack, the Cougars are similar to Washington and will present height problems back there for the Trojans. But WSU is also quite top-heavy -- Thompson and Aden combine for more than half of Coach Ken Bone's team's scoring. DeAngelo Casto is a solid defensive presence in the frontcourt and can present problems for Vucevic and Alex Stepheson.

The pick? USC by seven or so. We'll have a postgame report on the blog.

Preview: USC at Washington State

February, 20, 2010
2/20/10
1:31
PM PT
If Thursday's game against Washington was the good kindof rematch for USC, then Saturday afternoon's rematch with Washington State is the vengeful kind.

See, when the Cougars and Trojans played last month, USC succumbed to an improbable second-half comeback from WSU and lost, 67-60. At the time, USC forward Alex Stepheson called it "pretty bad," memorably shaking his head while looking down.

But, as Stepheson will tell you, the tables have turned.

Since that game, the Trojans (16-9, 8-5) have won five of seven games — including their last four. The Cougars (15-11, 5-9) have lost six of seven.

But that doesn't make USC coach Kevin O'Neill any less worried about today's 2 p.m. contest at the Wallis Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum in Pullman, Wash.

The Cougars still have Klay Thompson. They still have Reggie Moore.

And combined, that duo's good for an average of 34.3 points per game — enough to keep any coach worried.

In January, the WSU duo had 41 of their team's 67 points. At the time, O'Neill called Moore the best point guard in the Pac-10.

Both Moore and Thompson struggled in the Cougars' 20-point loss to UCLA on Thursday, together recording just 19 points, but WSU did get 10 points from forward DeAngelo Casto.

And Casto may well be the key to this game. Averaging 14 points in his last four games, the 6-foot-8, 229-pound forward is the closest thing to an inside threat the Cougars offer.

While Cougars coach Ken Bone frequently runs a 4-guard offense, he can only do so if Casto manages to limit USC's Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic down low — and score some himself.

We'll see. No television today, but we'll have halftime and postgame updates.

Notes: We profiled USC baseball in this space yesterday, and the Trojans' first game against Cal Poly was an overwhelming success, as starter Andrew Triggs went seven strong innings and designated hitter Matt Foatwent 4-for-5 with 4 RBI. USC won 9-4 and will be back facing the Mustangs again tonight at 6 p.m...Meanwhile, USC's appearance before the NCAA Infractions Committee in Tempe, Ariz. is set to conclude today. The Los Angeles Times reports that the focus of today's proceedings are centered around the basketball program. Former USC head coach Tim Floyd, who resigned last year, is in attendance alongside one of his attorneys.

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