Washington State played another great game Thursday night, downing USC 73-58 on the Trojan’s home court. From beginning to end, it was a great game if you're a Cougar fan. And if you aren’t, there’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon. Climb aboard!
Where to begin? How about a description of the overall performance by the number four ranked team in the nation? It can be adequately summed up in one word. Teamwork.
Once again, this was a “team” victory for Coach Tony Bennett’s ball club. They imposed their will, playing Cougar basketball for the entire 40 minutes. Though their stifling defense only forced 13 USC turnovers, the Cougs played almost flawlessly on offense, turning the ball over a ridiculous seven times for the entire game. Seven turnovers on offense! There’s the mark of a very well-coached team.
With the teams exchanging baskets for much of the first half, Daven Harmeling, who finished with a team-high 19 points, became the offensive spark Washington State needed. His marksmanship from three-point country pushed the Cougs out to a 27-21 lead. The Trojans managed a bucket before halftime, but that surge gave WSU the separation they needed going to intermission and the second half.
A few minutes into the second half, the Cougs moved out to a double digit lead that put more pressure on the Trojan offense. Actually, that added pressure on the Trojan defense because WSU continued to work the ball on offense for the shots they wanted, not shots being forced upon them.
This may sound wacky, but Aron Baynes had an off night with 18 points. The USC defense double teamed him virtually every time the big man touched the ball. To keep Baynes from using his favorite shot, the thunder dunk, they sacrificed fouls to force him to the free throw line to score. That proved effective to some degree, but not a huge difference maker.
If there was a deciding factor to single out for the Cougs, aside from their meticulous team play, it was their shooting from beyond the arc. Washington State was a stellar 10-22 from beyond the three-point line. That’s compared with the sub-par 2-9 from the Trojans.
This game was clearly a match up of experience versus athletic potential. If you compare the individual player “star” ratings, there’s a wide chasm between the two schools. USC is loaded up on four- and five-star players, with a couple of three-star kids added in. WSU lacks any four- or five-star players. Chances are, many of the highly touted phenoms on USC dragged back to their dressing room after the final buzzer wondering, “Who were those guys?” Simple answer to that question:
Those guys were the WSU basketball team. Period.
When was the last time you turned on ESPN Sports Center and saw complete highlights of a Cougar victory as a featured story? And when was the last time that story was longer than the following story on the UCLA victory over Washington?
Last night the Cougs played their game in front of 10,000 fans in Galen Center, a West Coast Fox Sports Net audience and were then highlighted on ESPN.
Four years ago, the Cougs won just 13 games all season. Presently their record on this season stands at 14-0.
What a difference great coaching and teamwork makes in a college basketball program.
Next up for Washington State is UCLA. Four years ago, it was, “…next up for UCLA is WSU.”