NCAA Basketball

No. 20 Southern California ready for much-improved Washington State

In sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 Conference and riding a five-game winning streak, No. 20 Southern California visits Washington State on Saturday at Pullman, Washington.

The Trojans (16-3, 10-2 Pac-12) routed rival UCLA last Saturday to move into a tie atop the league. A USC win at Washington on Thursday, coupled with Washington State's win over UCLA shortly thereafter, elevated the Trojans alone in first place.

"Winning in this league is hard, especially on the road," USC coach Andy Enfield said after the Trojans' 69-54 defeat of Washington.

Washington State (12-8, 5-8) proved Enfield's point of the difficulty visiting teams can face in conference play, pouncing on UCLA early and holding off the Bruins in an 81-73 victory.

The Cougars are winners in three of their last four, two of which are against likely NCAA Tournament teams UCLA and Oregon. Washington State's only loss in that stretch was a 68-66 decision at Oregon State last Saturday.

"We just wanted to show that we're tough and show we were going to hit them in the mouth first," said Washington State guard Isaac Bonton after his 26-point performance against UCLA.

Washington State's lead grew to as many as 23 points, a stark contrast from the Cougars' 30-point loss at UCLA on Jan. 14.

The blowout loss to UCLA and an 85-77 defeat at USC two days later were part of a six-game losing streak the Cougars emerged from during their current run of success.

A Jan. 16 meeting with USC was the only game during Washington State's losing streak in which it scored more than 61 points. In their last three wins, the Cougars have hit at least 74 points.

Bonton, who scored 27 points at USC, has paced Washington State's offensive turnaround with 25, 23 and 26 points in the Cougars' three recent wins. The sudden emergence of D.J. Rodman has also buoyed Washington State. He has 34 points in the last three games, almost half of his entire point total on the season.

Washington State's 77 points at USC are almost the most an outstanding Trojans defense has surrendered all season. USC comes into Saturday's matchup boasting the nation's 10th-ranked defense in adjusted efficiency per KenPom.com metrics, and ranks No. 4 nationally with a 42 percent opponent field-goal percentage from inside the 3-point arc.

The Trojans' 5.6 blocked shots per game help key their stifling interior defense. Evan Mobley, a 7-foot center, leads the way in that category, blocking three shots Thursday at Washington to maintain his season average of 2.9 per game.

Mobley also sets the offensive pace at 16.4 points per game, but the Trojans thrive with scoring balance. Seven USC players average at least 6.4 points per game and the Trojan at the low end of that figure, Ethan Anderson, has scored in double-figures in three of the team's last five games.

Tahj Eaddy, whose 12.6 points per game are second only to Mobley, went for 21 points against Washington State last month.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 12, 2021

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