The Washington State Cougars couldn’t quite close out a hard-fought game in Los Angeles against the USC Trojans, falling 80-70.
Despite being down three players, WSU (10-14, 5-8 in Pac-12) fought valiantly with one of the best teams in the conference all game long. The Cougars were able to secure a two point lead with under five minutes to go. USC (16-6, 8-3 in Pac-12) quickly delivered a haymaker in the form of a 15-3 run down the stretch to steal the win away from the undermanned Cougar team.
WSU, once again, suffered from a case of the injury/illness bug that results in yet another close loss.
The Cougars entered the contest missing three key players due to illness. DJ Rodman, Adrame Diongue and Dylan Darling all were ruled out, leaving the Cougs with just seven scholarship players available.
WSU wouldn’t be deterred and Mouhamed Gueye in particular wouldn’t be stopped. The 6’11 sophomore scored all 11 of the Cougars first 11 points, including an early heat check three. Kymany Houinsou scored the first non-Gueye bucket with a short jumper, then Gueye got right back to work, scoring his 13th point in the first seven minutes that sparked a 10-0 Cougar run. Justin Powell contributed a trey and a mid-range jumper with Andrej Jakimovski throwing in a corner three as well to get the Cougs out to a 12 point lead early. Drew Peterson broke up the run with a bucket, but the lead was pushed to a game-high 13 points on a Gueye and-one for his 15th and 16th points in just the first 10 and a half minutes.
USC had enough. The Trojans cut the lead in half in just 90 seconds and took the lead with a flurry of threes in a 17-2 run. Luckily, WSU wouldn’t let the Trojans go much further with the lead than five. The Cougs knocked down a trio of free throws in the final 1:45 of the half to bring USC’s lead down to two at the half.
Gueye ended the first half with 20 points. Two and a half minutes into the second half, he already set his career-high with 26 points. Again Gueye opened up scoring the Cougars first eight points. Boogie Ellis kept the Trojans in the game with eight of the Trojans first 12 points and a three to give USC the lead back with 14:20 to go. Ellis added on with a jumper to give USC their largest lead of the game at six. After Powell responded with a trey, Ellis answered right back with a three of his own with 8:01 to go, forcing Kyle Smith to take a timeout.
The Cougars came out with new life out of the timeout. Jakimovski knocked down a three out of the break to pull back within four and Gueye broke the 30 point mark with an and-one to cut the lead down to one. Carlos Rosario matched Drew Peterson’s midrange jumper with a layup to keep the game within one. On the following possession, Rosario again came up big. The redshirt freshman saved a loose ball and whipped a pass right to Powell, who knocked down a three to give WSU the lead. USC immediately answered with a 6-0 run to steal momentum from the Cougars. Down four with under two and a half to play, the Cougars needed to get a bucket and T.J. Bamba delivered with a massive three to pull back within a point. Ellis got to the charity stripe on the following possession to push the lead back up to three.
On another critical late possession, it was the Trojans who won the battle with a pair of key blocks to force a shot clock violation. On the next possession, Peterson delivered the Trojan sword sized dagger right into the heart of the Cougs with an incredible step-back three. USC added a pair of dunks and free throws at the end to seal a 10 point win.
The Cougars will hope to get healthier before their big matchup at the UCLA Bruins on Saturday.