WSU-USC Basketball Preview

Lew WrightSenior Writer IJanuary 9, 2008

Thursday evening, the Washington State Cougars will continue with their road show by taking on the University of Southern California Trojans at Galen Center in Los Angeles. Though the Trojans have opened their PAC-10 schedule with two losses to the Bay Area schools, this USC team is stacked with talent.

Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo is the media darling freshman of USC. First, OJ is a freshman in terms of eligibility, but the “kid” turned 20 in November. That makes him a mature freshman at the least. There is no denying OJ is blessed with tremendous basketball skills and a true passion for the game. It remains to be seen if USC is just a one-year stint for him before cashing in with endorsements and a lucrative NBA contract. Odds are that he’s one and done. So is OJ overrated? Well, consider these facts. Mayo leads USC in scoring (20.1 ppg) and is second in steals, rebounding, free throw percentage and assists. Does that sound like an overrated freshman? Think not. If you are still skeptical, try this stat. Mayo is averaging, yes averaging, 36 minutes of playing time a game. Yes, he’s played in all 14 games, too. If nothing else, that does say something about his ability to stay out of foul trouble.

Mayo isn’t the only talent on the Trojan team this season. USC has a couple of great players in Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett. Both are sophomores back from last season, bringing a bit of experience to a very young team. There isn’t one senior on the Trojan team this year. Hackett is a proven point guard who can fill it up on occasion. He’s scoring nearly 12 points a game while dishing out 4 assists. Look for Hackett to be out on the floor just about the entire game as he’s averaging 33.5 minutes per contest. In other words, the Trojan backcourt won’t be rotated very often against the Cougs.

USC goes into the game Thursday night with a 9-5 record overall. Two of those losses came last week against Stanford and Cal, both very good basketball clubs. Also, both of those games were on the road. Traveling in the PAC-10 is a difficult task at best, so those losses weren’t a fluke. Where the Trojans are venerable is on defense. They have been giving up an average of 61 points a game. Frankly, that’s not good enough for the PAC-10 and will be a focus by Coach Tim Floyd for the rest of the season. He’s so serious about turning it up on defense that the Trojans practice on Monday featured covers on the basket so the team could work on rebounding. As this young team becomes more accustomed to each other, they should reduce their turnovers. After 14 games, the Trojans average 16 turnovers a game, again a stat that is pretty high to expect any success in the PAC-10.

After two losses last week, USC is going to be spoiling for a win. However, that is something the Cougs are used to from an opponent. Last season most teams though WSU was doing it with mirrors rather than solid play. Now at least coaches know that the Cougs are for real. Last year WSU won both conference games at the buzzer. Then they fell to the Trojans during the PAC-10 tournament. Coach Floyd will be showing films of the conference game to expose ways to win again on Thursday night. At the same time, Coach Tony Bennett will probably be showing the very same films to avoid stumbling to a loss for the first time this season.

It’s likely that the team will be without the services of Stephen Sauls, who suffered a severe concussion during practice this week. Sauls was knocked unconscious on a play when he collided with the Cougs big man Aron Baynes. Sauls is expected to fully recover, but probably will be resting for the foreseeable future.

Solid, consistent play will earn WSU another win. Nothing flashy, just solid play.

Prediction: WSU 63 - USC 58