LOS ANGELES—Washington State (14-5, 4-3) was a little slow out of the gate Thursday night but finished strong down the stretch to take down the USC Trojans (11-7, 3-3) at the Galen Center.
Coach Ken Bone considered changing his starting lineup following the game last Saturday against Stanford, but instead of trying something new, coach Bone showed patience with his young roster of student athletes, and it paid off big time for the Cougars.
USC came out aggressively on defense and deliberately at the offensive end of the court, as they stuck to coach Kevin O'Neill's game plan.
The Trojans took WSU out of their game by crashing the boards and completely shutting down the Cougs' transition game.
With Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson providing offensive firepower and Alex Stepheson controlling the paint, the Trojans enjoyed a 10-point lead at halftime, 34-24.
How dominant was USC in the first half?
Klay Thompson led the Cougs with 11, and Reggie Moore added another 10. The rest of the Cougars managed just three points.
It was during the intermission where things turned in favor of Washington State.
“We talked about the fact they had 10 points in transition, and we had zero. They had seven points on second-chance points, and we had two. That’s a 15-point difference, and we’re down five. We talked about how we can clean those two things up," said WSU coach Ken Bone.
Okay, it wasn’t all Cougs in the second half. In fact, USC built their lead up to 15 points in the second half with 17:26 remaining on a vicious dunk by Marcus Johnson.
But that was it. Johnson's dunk appeared to be the last straw, and it was all Reggie Moore could tolerate. He stepped up his game to another gear and took over the basketball game.
Moore knocked down one of his three-pointers about five minutes into the second half and clearly motivated his teammates to play their game—Cougar basketball. Coach Bone’s team was on the march and slowly but surely got back into the game.
“I’m a lifetime basketball player. Once a team gets a big lead on you, that’s all you can do [is chip away]. There’s no shot you can hit that’s worth 15 points. You have to take it one point, two points, or three points at a time and get stops,” said WSU guard Reggie Moore.
Fittingly, Washington State took back the lead for good on a smooth, high-arching three-pointer from the corner baseline by senior Nikola Koprivica. How'd he get the ball? Moore drove the lane, drawing the defense to collapse on him, then dished the ball to Koprivica who was wide open.
By resisting the urge to push the panic button and stick with the game plan, the Cougs worked their way into a position to earn a Pac-10 road victory to begin their Southern California trip.
“There were a couple of times tonight where we could have fallen apart because…[USC] is a very good team,” said Coach Bone outside the locker room.
A couple of second-half stats jump out to define how Washington State won the game. The Cougs scored 13 points off turnovers to none for the Trojans, and coach Bone got some scoring out of his bench, creating a 13-2 margin over USC. That was more than enough.
In the end, USC coach Kevin O’Neill didn’t have the roster depth necessary to control the flow of the game for 40 minutes. WSU simply hung in there until the Trojans ran out of gas.
Coach Bone pointed out, “Our guys are relentless, and they keep battling every minute. I thought our guys played with a lot of poise. I appreciate the effort.”
Winning the first game in Los Angeles is big for WSU, but things won’t get any easier come Saturday afternoon when they face UCLA in storied Pauley Pavilion.
Originally published in Lew Wright's WSU Sports column on Examiner.com