Southern Cal comes into Pullman riding a four-game winning streak after sweeping the Arizona schools at home last weekend. Washington State is riding the high of upsetting their rival Washington in Seattle. Both teams are looking to make a splash this weekend to move up in the Pac-10 standings and gain an easier road to the conference title.
These two teams met in their second conference game of the year way back on New Year's Eve. The game came down to a final WSU possession. With the Cougars down two, Klay Thompson's pass out to Abe Lodwick in the corner could not be handled, ending their chances. USC escaped with a 60-56 victory and sent Wazzu to a disappointing 0-2 Pac-10 start.
Let's take a look at some of the key factors on both sides of the ball.
When the Cougs have the ball...
Klay Thompson was limited from inside the arc the last time these two teams played. He came alive from outside down the stretch to pull the Cougs close, but USC's defense made life difficult him for most of the game. Southern Cal's combination of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson inside makes it difficult for a lot of guards to finish in the paint. USC is third in the Pac-10 in defensive two-point percentage, giving up just 44.1%.
In their first matchup, USC held WSU to 37.2% on two pointers to go with a tiny 11.7 free throw rate. If not for Klay Thompson hitting four of his five three point attempts, their efficiency would have looked even worse than the .897 points per possession they posted.
DeAngelo Casto, who always seems to perform best against the conference's top bigs, did so again against the Trojans. He was ultra-efficient on the offensive end, putting up 18 points on just 13 possessions used.
USC is very good at limiting shooting. WSU is not a very good shooting team. If the Cougs are going to have at least an average day on offense tonight, they will have to take care of the ball and get to the free throw line more often than they did last time around.
That makes Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto huge (as usual). I also would expect Klay to improve on his two-point performance.
When the Trojans have the ball...
USC is the conference's most stingy team. They have only turned the ball over on 16.3% of possessions in conference play. They also only have the ball stolen from them a league-low 7.1% of the time. This has allowed them to overcome being average-to-bad in every other offensive category to post an above-average offensive efficiency.
The good news for the Cougs is that the Trojans do not focus on offensive rebounding. WSU is 8th in the Pac-10 in DR% and was just killed by the Huskies on the offensive glass.
Alex Stepheson and Nikola burned the Cougs last game, as they combined for 26 points and 21 rebounds. Donte Smith played the role of "guy on the other team that lights us up from three" as he buried 4-8 from downtown.
The Cougs put together a very good defensive performance against the Trojans, it really was the offense that failed them at the Galen Center. If they can rebound similarly and hold USC's guards down from inside the three point line again (two things that are very doable), they could easily post another above-average defensive performance.
Overall...These teams are evenly matched in terms of the numbers. Kenpom predicts WSU to win 65-61 with 65% confidence. This game should be close as it was in Los Angeles. Can the Cougs make that finishing play that eluded them the first time around?
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