Preview: USC vs. WSU

Friday, 8:30 p.m. vs. Stanford. Staples Center. TV: Prime.
After a thrilling come from behind victory in overtime over the Stanford Cardinal on Thursday evening, the USC Trojans (22-10, 12-7) move on to the semifinal round of the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament to face the Washington State Cougars (25-6, 14-5).
For USC, it is chance for a measure of redemption after losing two extremely close battles to the Cougars during the regular season. The game is set to start tonight at 8:30pm at the Staples Center.
Wednesday, March 7th, 6:00pm (Game 1): Cal 70 OSU 51 .
Wednesday, March 7th, 8:30pm (Game 2): UW 59 ASU 51
Thursday, March 8th, 12:00pm (Game 1): UO 69 Arizona 50
Thursday, March 8th, 2:30pm (Game 2): Cal 76 UCLA 69 OT
Thursday, March 8th, 6:00pm (Game 3): USC 83 Stanford 79 OT
Thursday, March 8th, 8:00pm (Game 4): WSU 74 UW 64
Friday, March 9th, 6:00pm: #4 Oregon vs. #8 Cal.
Friday, March 9th, 8:00pm: #3 USC vs. #2 WSU.
Saturday, March 10th, 3:00pm: Championship Game.
GAME 1 REVISITED: USC vs. Stanford.
The University of Southern California Trojans likely locked up an NCAA Tournament berth on Thursday evening at the Staples Center, defeating the Stanford Cardinal in overtime, 83-79. Junior forward Nick Young lead USC with 26 points, as the Trojans erased an 11-point halftime deficit in the 2nd half en route to their first conference tournament victory since 2003.
Though Young lead USC in the box score, junior guard Gabe Pruitt (17 points, 8 assists, 3 for 6 from 3-point territory) was the player of the game for USC. Pruitt scored 7 points in a row midway through the 2nd half, sparking the Trojans on to a 20-7 run that got USC back into the ballgame. The Trojans sent the game into overtime on a jumper from Young and some clutch defense by Taj Gibson, who blocked Stanford guard Anthony Goods attempted game-winning shot as time expired.
Up next for USC are the Washington State Cougars, a team that defeated the Trojans twice this season by a combined 5 points.
Ted's Take On The Cougars: 6 Shooter With Bullets.
Ted Venegas is a long time contributor to Here are Ted's thoughts on Trojans battle with the Stanford Cardinal:
The Cougs got to the semifinal by continuing their ownership of the Huskies. As usual, they out-executed Washington in the half court. After the Huskies had a hot shooting start, the Cougs clamped down defensively in the second half, holding the Huskies to 39% shooting. Guard play was also a key, as WSU's top three guards outscored Washington's by a combined total of 48-20. That was the difference. So much for the "hot" Huskies, who only beat ASU away from home all year.
The two games that USC and WSU have played so far this season have been extremely tight. The Trojans out-shot the Cougars in both games, and the rebounding totals were dead even over both contests. Yet the Cougars have found a way to win each game. In the first game, the difference was turnovers and three-point shooting. WSU won the turnover battle 14-8, and that helped them manage 12 more shots than 'SC. They also made 40% of their threes, while 'SC only made 27%.
The second game was about as even as games get. Both teams shot well from the field, they shot identical percentages from behind the arc, and had equal turnover numbers. Free throws were the difference. The Trojans shot a respectable 76% for the game, but missed crucial one and ones in the second half, and Lodrick Stewart's one miss in the second OT helped to cost 'SC the game. On the other hand, the Cougs shot six more free throws and made 81% of them, including a perfect eight for eight for Taylor Rochestie, a 65% free throw shooter on the season.
In both games, the Trojans harassed star point guard Derrick Low. He shot 4-11 in the first game, and only got six shots off in the second. Devon Harmeling, a dangerous three-point shooter, also had the clamps put on him. He shot a combined 3-14 in the previous games. However, Kyle Weaver has picked up the slack with high percentage shooting, and Rochestie and Aron Baynes combined for 46 points in the last meeting, which is highly atypical.
As you can see, these two teams are very even. So how can USC get over the hump? The first key will be turnovers. USC turned the ball over 28 times this year against the Cougs, which is a lot against a team that slows the game down, even when you mix in a double overtime game. It also wouldn't hurt to make some three-point shots. USC shoots 39% from behind the arc, which is best in the conference, yet have managed to make only 30% against WSU.
The Trojans were snake bit in the first two games, losing the first on a last second shot by Weaver, and then the second when Stewart missed the costly free throw. This time will be different. The Trojans have rebounded better over the past few weeks, and I think they'll get some opportunities on the offensive glass. No way the Cougs get 31 free throws in this game, and I find it hard to believe that Baynes will go 10-10 again. Taj Gibson and Lodrick Stewart will be the heroes in this game as the Trojans gut out a close one to get them off the 8-9 slot for the NCAA Tournament.
Bonus: Cal vs. Oregon-- I've picked against Cal in both of their games, and they've proved me wrong each time. These two teams split the regular season match ups in two very different games. Oregon won the first one in Eugene, a game that was basically a three-point shoot out with both teams shooting high percentages. Cal eked out the second one in a game where neither team could make a free throw. Both teams are playing well as of now, and the Ducks have a higher ceiling for good play than Cal, so I'm going with Oregon. The Ducks defend and rebound better than Cal does, as the Arizona game proves. Plus Cal will be playing their third game in three days, they just played an OT game, and Oregon has had a few hours more of rest.
10 Keys For A USC Victory and "The Prediction"
10. Eliminate the penetration of new starting (and slashing) PG Taylor Rochestie. Rochestie's drive-and-kicks have sent the Trojan defenders scrambling on defense, leaving clean looks for Aron Baynes, Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver.
9. Get to the free-throw line and keep them off. If USC is getting to the free-throw line, that means the Trojans are being able to breakdown the responsible Cougar defense. When slow-footed players like Aron Baynes are forced to pick up a hard-charging Trojan, good things will happen for the USC offense. Additionally, USC must keep WSU off of the free-throw line tonight. The Cougars are a near 80% team against USC so far this season from the line (78%), compared to only 70% in their other games.
8. Take 3-pointers. The Trojans lead the conference in 3-point shooting percentage but were last in 3-point attempts. The Cougar perimeter defense does give up opportunities from beyond-the-arc, and USC will have to shoot above 40% from there if the Trojans hope to win tonight's game.
7. Stay Low. WSU team leader Derrick Low has not played well against USC so far this season (See above in Ted's Take). This trend must continue tonight if the Trojans expect to win.
6. Turnovers. USC is the more athletic team and if WSU has a weakness defensively, it is their transition defense. USC must find a way to create turnovers tonight, especially against the aggressive but young Taylor Rochestie. Additionally, the Trojans cannot turn the ball over more than 10 to 12 times. USC has averaged 14 turnovers against the Cougars this season, far too many against a patiently executing offense. As Ted noted, WSU took 12 more shots than USC in the first game this season. Giving the Cougs that many opportunities puts a team in a hole and leaves them there, as it is very difficult to dictate the tempo of the game without the basketball. USC has to be able to "get out and run" tonight at some points during the contest.
5. Board! WSU is statistically a very poor rebounding team (tied for last in rebounding offense, 8th in rebounding margin, 7th in rebounding defense). Though center Aron Baynes is a monster, he and Rochestie took the place of 8 rebounds/game for WSU (in the forms of Devon Harmeling and Ivory Clark). The Trojans must rebound well and most importantly, keep the savvy WSU guards off the glass.
4. Eliminate silly fouls. In the 2 games against the Cougars so far this season, 4 players have fouled out for USC (compared to zero for the Cougars). This is especially important for leading scorer Nick Young, who has fouled out of both contests, and for Taj Gibson. The Trojans will not win this evening if Gibson is watching the game from the bench early on.
3. Watch Weaver. Everyone in America is aware of WSU guard Kyle Weaver's ability to score the basketball. But that is not where Weaver beats you. Weaver leads the Cougars in rebounds, offensive rebounds, assists and steals. And for good measure, he 2nd on the team in blocks per game. If Weaver is able to mark up the box score tonight with ease, the Trojans will be in serious trouble.
2. Hot Lod. Thursday evening saw the Trojans win a game despite a poor overall contest for senior guard Lodrick Stewart, who picked up two early fouls and never found his rhythm. The Trojans cannot win tonight without a great game from Stewart, who is coming off of a 22-point performance against WSU two weeks ago (See #8).
1. Get it done. Last night, USC found a way to dig deep after sleepwalking through most of the game. Like the Cougars have done to them twice thus far this season, the Trojans must find a way to win tonight, and do so in any way that they can. This game will not be a pretty one, but we expect the Trojans to prevent the Cougars from beating them for a very difficult third time this season.
USC 62 WSU 58