Cougars look to knock off Trojans in last game of roadtrip

WSU hopes to get back in win column after dropping three of last four games



Then-freshman small forward Aljaz Kunc leaps as he shoots for the net during the game against USC on Feb. 2, 2019 at Beasley Coliseum.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

To finish their four-game road trip, the WSU men’s basketball team will face the USC Trojans at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

WSU (9-3, 2-3) just came off its worst loss of the season against the UCLA Bruins on Thursday. The 30-point loss was the worst margin of defeat for the Cougars since facing the Oregon Ducks in the first round of the 2019 Pac-12 Tournament.

Head coach Kyle Smith said the loss had a “pretty simple explanation,” which was that the Cougs were simply outplayed throughout the entire game.

“They’re a good team, we knew that coming in, but we really struggled to take anything away from them,” Smith said.

WSU is 1-3 in its last four games, all losses against conference opponents. It is safe to say the Cougars are experiencing the “shift in talent” that Smith talked about in a press conference before the conference schedule resumed in late December 2020.

The Trojans (10-2, 4-1) are the next for the Cougars, and it is not going to be any easier of a matchup for them. UCLA remains in first place in the conference, while USC comfortably sits in that number two spot.

USC is on a five-game winning streak, four of which were victories against conference opponents. And much like the Bruins, USC has a balanced scoring attack of their own.

Both teams have almost identical numbers in points per game and field goal percentage, plus the Trojans are the 14th team in the nation in rebounds per game, and second in the nation in blocks per game.

The Trojans have an answer for almost every aspect of the game, and at the head of the pack are the Mobley brothers, Evan and Isaiah.

Freshman and sophomore forwards Evan and Isaiah Mobley, respectively, are among the team leaders in points and rebounds per game. Evan especially is arguably the most impactful player on the team as he also ranks seventh in the nation in blocks per game with just over three.

The Mobley brothers will be the second time the Cougs will have to defend against a premier forward in the conference. WSU faced Stanford’s Oscar da Silva last week in a 15-point loss on the road. Da Silva had 27 points that night, which is still the most points scored by an individual WSU opponent this season.

Smith said the matchup against da Silva was going to be tough in terms of who WSU would match up against him. Despite multiple different defensive matchups, the Cougs could not contain him at all.

“They got the ball in the mid-post, the high post too much with him,” Smith said following the Stanford game. “He just makes everything.”

Luckily for WSU, the Mobley brothers are not too much of a scoring threat outside the arc, only making 11 threes combined this season, but the Cougars’ defensive efforts against them will be key to Saturday’s game.

Despite the recent struggles by WSU, senior guard Isaac Bonton has been playing some of his best basketball to date. In the past four games, he has averaged 22 points, just under five assists, and has shot about 53 percent from the field.

Following the loss to UCLA, Bonton said there are certainly things in his game he needs to refine in order to earn WSU a win.

“I’m definitely going to have to go back and watch the film on it; see what I could’ve done better,” Bonton said.

Rebounding and defense were among the top things that Smith and Bonton talked about after the UCLA loss, two stats the team excelled in before the game. The Cougars had their worst rebounding and defensive performance to date against UCLA, and both Bonton and Smith agreed that this needs to change in order to get back into the win column.

The last time WSU won on the road against USC was in 2015, which is also the last time the Cougars beat the Trojans at all. Bonton said the team had a constructive conversation following the UCLA loss. He said he and the team are hungry to get back out on the court and end the losing streak.

“That’s the beauty of the Pac-12, beauty of the competition,” Bonton said. “We got to let [the loss] go out our head, figure out what you need to do better, and go attack that. So that’s what we’ll do.”