Daniel Hackett leads SC (AP D. Hare)
The USC Trojans (13-6, 4-3) came into Pullman, WA short handed. Their leading scorer, Dwight Lewis, wasn't ready to go for the second game in a row. Didn't matter who could suit up in the SC version of a Darth Vader uniform. Come 3 PM, 40 minutes of basketball was scheduled to be played.
When the final buzzer went off, the scoreboard read USC 46 - WSU 44.
Before the game, Washington State (11-8, 3-4) Coach Tony Bennett was clear about what his team needed to do to win.
"We've got to come with purpose." - Coach Tony Bennett
That's how the Cougs played in the first half. They played following Coach Bennett's three "P" approach:
Over the course of the first 20 minutes, neither team enjoyed a lead larger than four points. The Trojans struggled to find someone to take a shot. The Cougs struggled to find someone who could make a shot.
The scoreboard at halftime was 19-18 in favor of Washington State. They shot the ball well two days earlier against UCLA, but it was a very different story against USC. They were a miserable 6-24, or 25 percent from the field in the first half.
Compared to the Cougs, the Trojans looked to be on fire shooting 37 percent. That's about average against a Coach Bennett defense.
WSU began the second half shooting the rock slightly better. Midway through the final period they were up 33-25 on an Aron Baynes bucket.
The game was still in control of WSU minutes later when young gun Klay Thompson nailed a three-point basket to put his team up 38-30. It was at this point in the game where the men of Troy stepped up and took it to the Cougs.
USC played intense, aggressive basketball over the final five minutes, forcing WSU into a series of fouls. They weren't going to leave town with another loss on Friel Court, something that had become all too common over the past few seasons.
Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett played like a couple of possessed players while WSU floundered on offense.
Hackett finished the game with a team high 14 points on 1-8 shooting. That's right. He was 11-14 from the free-throw line. Hackett played with maturity and savvy, showing why he'll probably turn pro at the end of this season.
This game was decided at the foul line down the stretch, and it was USC who made free throws when they needed them.
WSU headed into the final two minutes with the lead, 41-38, on a Thompson trey. Klay would finish with a game high 15 points. He wanted nothing more than to defeat Coach Tim Floyd and the Trojans after being snubbed by them.
Thompson had hoped to play for USC, but they never recruited him. Though he outperformed highly touted Trojan freshman DeMar DeRozan, 5 points on 2-7 shooting, victory slipped right through his hands.
USC heads home with a split in Washington.
WSU heads off on the road to Arizona looking to steal a couple of wins on their opponents home court. No easy trick in the Pac-10.
Perhaps some of the Washington State players can take a deep breath and relax on offense. Coach Bennett has them getting open shots. Make some of those looks and the victories will begin mounting up.
It would have only taken a total of 47 points to beat SC.
Could just be that the warmer climate of Arizona will heat up the Cougar offense. If not, all their extraordinary efforts on defense will be in vain.