Tim Floyd had answers Thursday (AP John Miller)
Washington State (13-13, 5-9) took their show on the road to Los Angeles looking to avenge a two-point loss to USC a couple of weeks ago. Coach Tim Floyd and his Trojans (16-9, 7-6) would have none of that, earning a victory over the Cougs on the hardwood of Galen Center 61-51.
After looking loose and ready to play during warm-ups, Coach Tony Bennett's troops looked inspired to play where they have been at their best in the Pac-10...on the road.
The game got off to a nice start for WSU after winning the opening tip, but things got away from them quickly after that.
Midway through the first half, USC went on a 15-0 run.
It wasn't that they were shooting lights out.
Coach Floyd's defense clogged the middle, forcing WSU to fire up jumpers from outside. That was about as effective as honking your horn on the San Diego Freeway to speed up traffic.
The Cougs jump shots were taken out of rhythm and were the quality for building beautiful homes on the south side of Spokane.
Here's the stat that says it all for the WSU offense in the first half: 0-8 from behind the arc.
The usually steady freshman Klay Thompson was smothered in to 0-5 shooting from the floor, including his two attempts at a trey.
The Trojans were able to find lanes to drive most of the first half, something uncharacteristic of a Coach Bennett team.
Converting 48 percent of their attempts from the floor against Bennett Ball only happens when the opponent gets into the paint. Nearly half of the USC scoring, 14 points, came from the lane.
Despite the anemic 33 percent accuracy, Coach Bennett's team trailed by just eight at the intermission, 29-21.
Washington State came out of the locker room with energy and a plan to turn things around.
Senior Aron Baynes got the handle on a nice pass and was fouled laying in the first bucket of the second half. His teammates followed that up with five consecutive misses and WSU was suddenly trailing 38-24.
Senior Taylor Rochestie started the Cougs scratching their way back into the game.
USC began playing not-to-lose basketball and over the next 10 minutes nearly put WSU in position for the win.
Coach Bennett got his team to take the ball inside.
Back-to-back layups by freshman DeAngelo Casto brought the Cougs almost all the way back, closing the gap to 45-44.
At this point in the game, the layed-back Trojan crowd weren't alone answering a wake up call.
Talented Trojan junior Dwight Lewis dominated the rest of the way for USC. He played like a man possessed, a role typically reserved for junior Daniel Hackett.
The score remained close right up to the 2:30 mark, when it appeared the Cougs ran out of gas. After playing tough defense coming out of a time out, Lewis forced up a shot and was bailed out by freshman Marcus Capers as the shot clock ran down.
Lewis made both free throws to push the lead up to 57-51 in favor of the Trojans.
Down the stretch the young guns of Washington State had their chances to pull this one out. Misfires from Casto and Capers sealed their fate.
The trio of Lewis, Taj Gibson and Hackett provided enough offense to take the game from Washington State. Lewis had a game high 17 with Gibson adding 16. Hackett not only ran the offense to perfection of Coach Floyd, he contributed a dozen points.
Only two WSU players managed double figures scoring. Rochestie led the way with 16 and some aggressive second half play. Senior Caleb Forrest got off to 10-point start in the opening half, finishing with an even dozen.
After the game, Coach Floyd was relieved to say:
"We're happy to get a win. It's been a while...It was a good win for us overall."
His counterpart, Coach Bennett, responded to the basic question, "What happened tonight?"
"It sure seemed like the guys were flat when we came out tonight. I don't understand it. We keep trying to find things in our game to hold onto."
Tough way to start this road trip for the Cougs. They have a couple of days to gear up for UCLA.
There were more lessons learned tonight by the young guns. For Thompson, he may have been pressing too hard in front of the Southern California crowd. For Casto, this game was another positive learning experience.
Will the young guns be ready for their first game in Pauley Pavilion?
You better believe it.