Cougars fall to the Trojans

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

The Cougars’ men’s basketball team lost to the University of Southern California Trojans 65-56 this Thursday at Beasley Coliseum to begin play in the Pac-12 conference.

This result ended WSU’s (9-5, 0-1) six game winning streak they accumulated during December. For the Trojans (12-2, 1-0), this win extends their winning streak to six games.

Junior guard Isaac Bonton was the leading scorer with 18 points, a point shy of tying his career high. Bonton shot the ball 26 times, a new career high, and made 27 percent.

Sophomore forward CJ Elleby had 10 rebounds and scored nine points, the first time he finished with single digit points this season.

Bonton said the team prides themselves in stepping up and always being ready to face adversities that come their way.

“That’s why we practice and work hard,” Bonton said. “Anything can happen.”

Head coach Kyle Smith predicts that senior forward Jeff Pollard will return for Saturday’s game against the Bruins despite the injury.

“Hopefully, it looks like Jeff will be able to play Saturday,” Smith said. “That’ll be helpful.”

The Trojans lead the Cougars 22-9 after 10 minutes of play, the largest lead of the game. WSU went on a 12-3 run later in the half, but USC held a 31-27 lead at halftime. This is the third time this season and back-to-back games where WSU trailed at halftime.

The Cougars finished the first half with a new season low in first half shooting percentage at 24.39 percent. The percentage increased to 27.8 at the end of the game, another team low on the year.

Pollard made a late-game return with two minutes remaining and contributed a single highlight basket off an assist from Bonton. The Cougars could not rally a run against Southern California after this play and trailed as the clock expired.

Trojans’ freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu currently ranks as the third-best freshman in the nation in points and rebounds per game. Okongwu finished the game with 27 points and 12 rebounds on over 80 percent made from the field. These totals are the highest individual stats allowed by WSU this season.

Junior forward Tony Miller came of the bench and scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. This is the fourth time Miller scored double-digit points this season and his first career double-double.

Smith said Miller’s performance gave him a considerable case to start Miller in the near future.

“It might be a good time to consider starting Tony,” Smith said. “[It would] give us such a quick, strong, frontcourt guy.”

Senior guard Jervae Robinson said he thought of this game as not a moral victory, but a motivation to improve as a team.

“Tonight gave us a look of what we are going to see every night,” Robinson said. “It gave us motivation to keep getting better in practice and keep going hard.”

WSU will face the UCLA Bruins at 4 p.m. Saturday at Beasley Coliseum. The game can be seen live on the Pac-12 Networks.