Cougs to play a pair in Los Angeles

Men’s basketball will play USC at 8 p.m. Friday, UCLA at 4 p.m. Saturday



WSU guard Justin Powell shoots the ball during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Arizona, Jan 26.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

WSU men’s basketball (10-13, 5-7 Pac-12) had a couple of good games against the Arizona schools and came away with a 1-1 record in the homestand. Now the Cougars are on the road to face USC (15-6, 7-3 Pac-12) and No. 9 UCLA (17-4, 8-2 Pac-12).

The Cougs last saw USC on New Year’s Day, taking a big win by raining down threes and playing great defense when it mattered. This time will have to look much the same. The Cougs are a team that live and die by the three-ball. If they can keep it going like they did last time against the Trojans or in their most recent game against ASU they can win this game.

USC’s loss to WSU was perhaps their worst defensive game of the season. USC gave up the most points they have this season against WSU but allowed the Cougs to hit almost half of their threes.

Andrej Jakimovski and Justin Powell are coming off high-scoring games on good shooting against the Sun Devils. With bright green lights and hot hands, they could be set up to torch the Trojans. If the Trojans end up focusing on the perimeter more to try and prevent this, Mouhamed Gueye will be ready in the paint to make them pay.

UCLA is a different beast. Last time out against them the Cougs were actually up at halftime and ended up losing by only a single point. Gueye had arguably his best game of the season with 18 points and 18 rebounds while DJ Rodman led the team in points with 19.

The Cougs have a bunch of close losses to great teams, and this was one of their most painful. Holding a 9-point lead with 6:43 left in the game, the Cougs scored only four points in the rest of the game to the Bruins 14. None of those Cougar points were off of field goals. A single make in the final six minutes would have won the game. It was a crippling loss.

To look on the bright side, that loss proved that the Cougs can hold their own against this team. Maybe losing by one point hurts, but it also gives hope for this rematch.

The Cougs have to do what they did that time but slightly better. That is possible, especially considering that they had eight more turnovers and stole the ball nine fewer times in the previous game. There are clear areas to clean up, and the Cougs are looking better now than they were in December.

The USC game starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by an early 4 p.m. tip-off against UCLA on Saturday. Fans can watch the first on FS1 and the second on Pac-12 Network.