Men’s hoops looks to complete sweep of LA schools

Cougars look to beat USC for first time since 2015, sweep LA schools on this road trip



Junior guard Myles Warren looks for open teammate as he dribbles in front of defender.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

After stunning the UCLA Bruins on Thursday, the Cougars stay home to play the No. 20 USC Trojans at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Beasley Coliseum.

WSU’s (12-8, 5-8) first game against the Trojans (16-3, 10-2) was nothing short of a mismatch. Although the Cougars only lost by eight points, four Trojan players scored double-digit points and freshman forward Evan Mobley stuffed the stat sheet on offense and defense.

The likely top-five pick in next year’s NBA Draft will be a tough matchup for WSU to take care of the second time around, WSU head coach Kyle Smith said.

“We’ll need a great effort; it’ll be tough to go get those guys,” Smith said.

Mobley remains a highly productive big man for the Trojans and one of the best big men in the conference. He ranks first in the Pac-12 in rebounds and blocks per game, all while ranking second in the conference in field goal percentage where he shoots nearly 60 percent from the field.

Freshman center Volodymyr Markovetskyy didn’t play against UCLA on Thursday, but Smith said they’ll need his efforts to try and contain the Mobley brothers down low on Saturday.

Senior guard Isaac Bonton bounced back with a great performance against UCLA putting up 26 points, the most points he’s had since facing USC on Jan. 16th. He also tallied up five assists and rebounds across 37 minutes of play.

Bonton said this team is ready to take on the Trojans and they’re ready to put their win over UCLA behind them.

“We’re locked in, we got a quick bounce back,” Bonton said. “We’re going to play competition every night, that’s the beauty of the Pac-12.”

Smith decided to start a unique lineup against UCLA that involved playing sophomore guard Noah Williams at the small forward spot and sophomore guard Ryan Rapp at the two-guard. Rapp had a career night at the position, putting up a career-high eight assists and eight rebounds.

Sophomore forward DJ Rodman and junior forward Aljaz Kunc had impressive performances against UCLA as well. Rapp said the three of them having impactful performances against USC will be essential to take the pressure off of Bonton and Williams on offense.

“We just have to keep going out there and playing aggressive all the time,” Rapp said. “You can’t fear anything out there, you got to be confident.”

Since facing the Trojans, USC has climbed to the top of the Pac-12 standings as the number one team in the conference. Also, USC managed to finally make the AP Poll for the first time in two seasons.

On top of all that, the Trojans are on a five-game winning streak across the past month or so. Which included double-digit victories over Cal, Oregon State, Washington, and UCLA.

One of the largest factors towards USC’s success this season has been their play down low. Not only are the Trojans number one in the conference in rebounds and blocks per game, but they rank 13th and 7th in those statistics respectively across the whole country.

“It’ll be tough, USC is so good defensively – they’re huge,” Smith said. “They don’t pressure you and then they just try to pound it inside on the other end.”

Although the Trojans have just two players who average double-digit points per game in Mobley and senior guard Tahj Eaddy, their impact in the paint and overall inside presence will be the focal point in Saturday’s game.

Despite being on the road, the Trojans come into Pullman as the favorite over WSU. The last time WSU defeated USC was back in 2015, but the last time they beat them at home was almost two years before that.

Tip-off will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at Beasley Coliseum. Fans will not be allowed to attend; however, the game will air on ESPNU.