WSU men’s basketball returns home to play USC

Evan Baron | Evergreen men's basketball reporter

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After four months of blood, sweat and tears, the final week of the regular season of college basketball is upon us. This week the Washington State men’s basketball team will play its final two games of the season in Beasley Coliseum. The Cougars will first face off against the USC Trojans tonight at 8 p.m. and then play their season finale Saturday against the UCLA Bruins.

The Cougars were in the same position last season. They snapped a nine-game losing streak with wins over the Trojans and the Bruins in the final week of the 2013 regular season. WSU men’s basketball Head Coach Ken Bone hopes for a similar result this year.

“I felt like that (defeating UCLA and USC at home last year) gave us confidence heading into the (Pac-12) tournament,” Bone said. “We opened up with Washington and it ended up being a great game right down to the last few seconds, but I think the confidence we went into the tournament with came from playing well here at home against USC and UCLA.”

The Cougars enter this week riding a seven-game losing streak and will look to turn their luck around especially with the Pac-12 Tournament just around the corner.

“It’s really important for the fact that we need to get some momentum going into the Pac-12 Tournament,” junior guard DaVonte Lacy said. “Two wins, back-to-back would be really good for our momentum and that’s what we’re preparing for.”

These last two games in Beasley Coliseum will serve as the last go-around for seniors D.J. Shelton and Will DiIorio.

“It’s just now kind of hitting me that I won’t see this arena no more and be able to get to play in it,” Shelton said. “It’s going to kind of hurt my heart a little bit.”

Shelton transferred from Citrus College to WSU in 2011 and has been a key contributor for the program.

“I like the fact that he’s grown up a lot as a person the last few years,” Bone said. “He came here as a transfer out of a junior college, he had a few things I think personality wise that he needed to work on and there were a couple of bumps in the road but all and all… he might be one of the one most improved people in our program and the programs that I’ve coached.”

DiIorio came to WSU in 2010 and is a player who’s contributed to the program on and off the court.

“He loves it here, we’ve really enjoyed having him in the program, his work ethic and his attitude has just been phenomenal since day one,” Bone said. “Statistically speaking he hasn’t done a lot, but he’s one of our captains, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”

USC enters tonight’s game as the bottom team in the Pac-12 standings, while the Cougars are one spot ahead at No.11.

“They’re not having the best year record-wise, but they’re still in the Pac-12, and they’re still D-I talent,” Lacy said. “They got weapons I think it’s just like us where they just have a series of unfortunate events.”

The Trojans’ weapons are their two guards, junior Byron Wesley and senior Pe’Shon Howard. Wesley leads USC in scoring, averaging 17 points a game, and Howard is second on the team in scoring with 10.9 points a game. While WSU has had its scoring woes this season, the Trojans may be in a worse position. They enter tonight’s game shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc.

“USC’s not the best three point shooting team in the world, so I think we just got to level off penetration and have help side,” Lacy said.

Regardless of the poor outside shooting, the Cougars will still have their hands full defending the Trojan guards. In the loss at Washington last Friday, Husky guards Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss combined to score 33 points.  

“We do recognize the fact that USC has some guards that can really score,” Bone said, “Their leading scorers are guards, they have a lot of freedom, they’re really good in the open court, good with isolation, so we’ll have our work cut out to be able to keep them in front of us and contest their shots.”

Even though the Cougars made four out of 23 three point shots against the Huskies last week, Bone said he still plans to give his shooters the green light from long range.

“So I guess you can blame me for them shooting and missing (against UW) cause I was the one encouraging them to do that, and it won’t change (against USC) or the UCLA game or the Pac-12 tournament,” he said. “I will continue to encourage guys if they’re open and they’ve proven they can make shots, I will encourage them to shoot.”