Post-Game Observations: USC 60, WSU 56

Coming off a tough overtime loss against Washington to open conference play, the Trojans responded nicely with a 60-56 victory Friday afternoon over the Washington State Cougars. As expected, the game was a low-scoring, defensive-minded affair. Here’s what transpired…
The Good:

Contained WSU Star Klay Thompson

The 6’6″ junior guard came into tonight’s contest averaging a conference-best 22.6 points per game. The kid can score off the dribble, with jumpers coming off screens, and from deep (42.4% from behind the arc). From the outset, it was clear USC coach Kevin O’Neill wanted Marcus Simmons, the team’s best defender, to face guard Thompson and focus solely on preventing Thompson from touching the ball and preventing Thompson from getting good looks. Through a combination of stellar defense and bad luck, Thompson started the game cold; in the first half, Thompson shot 2-for-11–both buckets were threes. Thompson blew a lot of easy layups and missed numerous open jumpers. But, in the second half, Thompson got going. He had a threw down a thunderous dunk over Alex Stepheson and rattled in an additional pair of treys to finish with 17 points on the night on 6-for-18 shooting. While the Trojans were unable to stop the guard, they contained him, which was enough to keep the Cougars at bay.

Stepheson and Vucevic, Double Trouble

The thing you’ll notice when you turn on a USC basketball game is the enormous size of the Trojans’ front line. Both Stepheson and Vucevic are 6’10” and each one weighs at least 250 pounds. On Friday afternoon, the two forwards controlled the game down low with their toughness and size. Both big men had double-doubles; Stepheson recorded 14 points and 10 boards and Vucevic added 12 points and 11 rebounds. Together, they made it tough for WSU’s penetrating guards and Thompson to get good looks at the rim. On the flip side, they had trouble stopping WSU forward DeAngelo Casto down low; Casto exploded for 18 points and 8 rebounds (his season average is only 9.2 points per game).

Trojan of the Game:  Donte Smith

The senior guard stepped up for the Trojans when they needed him most. In a low-scoring, back-and-forth game, Smith hit four three-pointers off the bench and helped the Trojans make the first true scoring run of the game in the second half. More importantly, Smith sealed the game with 10 seconds remaining by hitting two critical free throws. The Trojans, as a team, only made 11 of their 17 free throw attempts, and they missed several opportunities late to increase their lead from the charity stripe. Smith was clutch today.

The Bad:

Maurice Jones Still M.I.A.

After USC’s first three games of the year, it looked like Jones was going to be a big part of the Trojans’ offense. In his coming-out party, Jones dropped 29 on an unsuspecting Santa Clara squad back on November 15. But since then, Jones has been wildly inconsistent, and his struggles continued today. Jones shot 1-for-5 from the field and only scored 2 points. He was a complete non-factor.

Closing Games Down the Stretch

The Trojans took a double-digit lead late into the second half but squandered that advantage in the final minutes through a combination of poor offensive possessions, absent-minded defensive mistakes, and poor free-throw shooting. Against Washington, the Trojans committed the same errors. Coach K.O. needs to shape the boys up and get them to close games strong; there is no game that demoralizes a team more than a win that they let go late in the game.

Conclusion:

For a box score, click here.

Up next:  UCLA on January 9, 2011.

Happy New Year to all!

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