Washington State basketball started the season in a little bit of a hole. Thanks to injuries, the team took the court for their season opener without three players that figured to play a major roles in their lineup. Two months into the season, the Cougs have had their fair share of disappointment. Tight road losses to UNLV and Baylor were compounded with heartbreakers in Pullman against Utah and, most recently, UCLA. But, on Sunday, WSU finally put together a (mostly) complete game against USC, picking up their first conference victory and arguably their biggest win of the season.
“It certainly gave us a little confidence, a little belief. We needed it.”
WSU head coach Kyle Smith spoke about the magnitude of Sunday’s win in his weekly media conference on Tuesday. After some bad luck and long road trips, the Cougs missed a major opportunity at an upset last Friday against a nationally ranked team. After the disappointment, Smith knew that things could have gone differently on Sunday against the Trojans.
“I’m just proud of the team,” said Smith. “I felt good about our guys, even after the UCLA game. They had every reason to come out flat and dejected and they didn’t.”
The win was a confidence boost that Smith thinks will play a major role for the Cougs as they enter the heart of the Pac-12 slate. Smith acknowledged their first couple of months this season has been a bit of a let down, and he takes partial responsibility for putting his team in that position.
“As a head coach, our schedule put them in a bad situation. Going out to Baylor and then going out to Hawaii, that’s tough. No one in the country is going to play their best doing all of that travel. To come back and play that well and then get the result. That was really important.”
One of the biggest reasons for WSU’s success over the weekend was the play of DJ Rodman. The senior posted a season-high 19 points against the Bruins, then followed that up with a 16 point afternoon in the win over USC. The offensive output is what likely caught the eyes of most fans watching the game, but Smith says that he might be more impressed with Rodman on the other side of the ball.
“He’s just confident. He’s like, ‘I want to take on [UCLA’s Jaime] Jaquez’ or whatever. Not even vocal, but just his body language. Then, he had to take on [USC’s Drew] Peterson the night game. Those are two of the top five guys in the league. They’re going to do good things, but having a senior that steps up is great. He’s gotta be up there near the leader in the country in taking charges. That gives your team coverage and it’s another way to get a stop. He’s just a really smart player.”
Confidence is key as the Cougars continue their tough schedule heading into the new year. WSU will hit the road once again to face off with Arizona State on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday. Tip off against the Sun Devils set for 5 p.m. tomorrow night with coverage on the Pac-12 Network.
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