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GAME THREAD: No. 4 WSU (13-0, 1-0) at USC (9-5, 0-2)

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 10, 2008

Galen Center (Los Angeles), 8 p.m. PT
TV: FSN

The Cougs resume their Pac-10 slate tonight against a USC team that figures to be pretty desperate after an 0-2 swing through the Bay Area last weekend.

The Trojans have to be considered one of the disappointments of the college basketball season so far, ballyhooed for the arrival of superstar recruit O.J. Mayo then mowed under by an overambitious schedule that featured No. 3 Kansas and No. 2 Memphis in consecutive games.

Quality teams seemed to have figured out a winning formula for beating USC that bears a striking resemblance to the Jordan Rules of the mid-to-late ’80s: Allow Mayo to shoot for whatever he wants while locking down his teammates. The result is that in their last four losses — to Kansas, Memphis, Cal and Stanford, all good defensive teams with the exception of Cal — the offense has gone stagnant as Mayo has shot the Trojans out of games (see exhibit 1, right). Check out the offensive efficiency numbers in the wins versus the losses.

Given that, I think tonight is going to be a fascinating game for a couple of reasons. First, Tim Floyd is way too good of a coach to allow opponents to keep beating his team the same way — he’s going to devise a gameplan that tries to involve more players and movement in the offense. However, you know the Cougs are going to try to make the exact opposite happen, funneling the ball to Mayo and then counting on the Pac-10’s best lockdown defender to harass him into another poor shooting night.

One guy Floyd probably will try to get going is Taj Gibson. He’s taken quite a step back this year, but was a force in the two games last year with his length and activity around the basket. In all likelihood, it will be a race to see which team’s big man stays out of foul trouble as both Gibson and Aron Baynes have a tendency to rack them up. That probably will be advantage, Cougars, since Baynes will be the aggressor against the lighter Gibson — provided he doesn’t lower his shoulder and get called for a couple of early offensive fouls.

Honestly, I envision a game that ends up looking a lot like last weekend’s game against the Huskies. USC is a very good defensive team — 15th nationally in defensive efficiency — and for all of the focus on Mayo’s offense, it’s his defensive game that is most NBA ready right now. The problem is, he can’t guard everyone, and I expect strong bounceback games from Taylor Rochestie and Derrick Low.

I would not be shocked if both teams end up under 50 points, and I expect the Cougs to edge out the Trojans at the end.

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10 Responses to “GAME THREAD: No. 4 WSU (13-0, 1-0) at USC (9-5, 0-2)”

  1. Ptowncoug said

    Nuss:
    Can you please explain to me the hooking rule. I noticed Baynes’ hooks with his elbow and locks the defender when he makes his move. However both his hands stay on the ball unlike Brockman, for example, who swings his free arm around a defender to get by.

  2. Nuss said

    As far as I know, you’re not supposed to use any part of your body to gain an advantage, whether using your off-hand or just your elbow with your hands on the ball. I would suppose you could get away with a little more if your hands are on the ball in the name of needing to be able to have room to turn around. But honestly, I just don’t know.

    It’s funny you bring up Brockman, though — I always say he’s like a 40-year-old playing pick up ball at the Y, which I mean as a compliment. That dude knows every trick there is to gain an advantage over an opponent. He’ll hang around the NBA for 10 years simply because of that.

  3. johnnycougar said

    Good points on the offensive efficiency stats and the “Mayo Rules.” I think the key factor tonight will be the start of the game. If USC comes out shooting hot from 3pt land, we might get in too big of a hole. If (and this is what I think will happen) Mayo starts by launching difficult-but-flashy shots against Weaver’s D, we’ll control the early game and we’ll see a repeat of the Gonzaga outcome, ie slow and steady dominance resulting in a “closer than it really was” score.

  4. Nuss said

    I’m not convinced that Mayo’s going to come out firing. Like I said, Floyd is a pretty dang good coach, and I have to believe — at least to start — they will have a solid gameplan, a la their contest against Memphis. It was only late, when the Tigers started really clamping down on defense, that Mayo started jacking up shots with abandon. I can see a similar scenario playing out tonight.

  5. Nuss said

    I absolutely love the start we’re off to. Low has taken a couple of good rhythm shots, USC is trying to get other guys involved, and with the exception of Gibson getting loose a couple of times on mismatches, they’ve done a good job at forcing USC into its bugaboo: TOs. Love it so far.

  6. Nuss said

    Can I just say how much I love watching any game where Marques Johnson is the color analyst? He is, bar none, the best in the business. There is no one even close.

    Interesting watching Bennett coach this game — he is really shuffling guys in and out. It’s like he wants to work matchups to see what will work, but it also seems like he’s trying to make sure he’s got the fresher team down the stretch, as USC starters tend to log heavy minutes. It’s working for now with the 3s — we’ll see if it gives an advantage in the second half.

  7. Nuss said

    Interesting first half. First of all, I’d like to welcome Daven Harmeling to the 2007-08 season. Right on time, I think.

    Lots of mixing and matching by Bennett, which I think will work to our favor in the second half. Still a bit concerned by how our offense just seems to go into hibernation for stretches of games — we were in complete control of this thing, then all of a sudden couldn’t seem to get off a quality shot. Thank goodness for Harmeling’s shooting.

    As for the O.J. Mayo lovefest going on between the announcers … well, I think the Cougs are doing a pretty decent job on him. I think they really need to resist the urge — which is planted in their brains so deeply by Bennett ball it must seem almost robotic — to double-team Mayo when he gets penetration. The way he can hurt us the most is by becoming a playmaker. We need to turn him one-dimensional, which we’ve done in stretches.

    Oh, and if I hear “the sum is greater than the parts” one more time tonight, I think I might puke. I heard it about 14 times on ESPN before the game, and I’m sure we’ll hear it another 456 times by the end of the game Saturday. It’s sooooooo irritating.

  8. Nuss said

    Huge second half so far. USC looks gassed — the foul problems certainly aren’t helping — and there are 12 minutes to go. This game could turn into a 15- to 20-point blowout if USC isn’t careful …

    Oh, and Mayo has five points in the second half on two buckets. Pretty awesome job by Weaver.

  9. nyCOUG said

    What’s that Nuss, a 15-pt. blowout? I’d say you were right on the money with that one. Great show by the Cougs tonight… I’ve never seen a team so good at absolutely frustrating and wearing down their opponents. Let’s hope it continues on Saturday. GO COUGS!!

  10. Jo~Jo said

    Okay, I’ll start by saying that the second half last night was one one of the best stretches of basketball I’ve ever seen. One again the Cougs were out matched in athleticism, but out smarted and out executed their opponent. With the poor quality of basketball in general these days, watching that second half was like drinking a cold beer on a hot day.

    Quick thoughts:

    How much better did Rochestie look running the point when he wasn’t running a fever?

    Low looked solid. Would still like to see the team run more of the baseline-to-wing screen plays, like they did last year, to get him some more shots. He totally toyed with the Trojans on that one posetion in the second half that resulted in a Baynes dunk.

    Weaver looked like an all-american. I swear that guy has six hands.

    Baynes, I thought, looked great on offense tonight. Sure there were a few missed dunks, but nights like that will happen. The good news is that he is going strong to the whole instead of playing patty cake with the back-board. Taj Gibson gave him trouble on defense, but Gibson is much more athletic than him.

    Cowgill, when on the floor, played excellent D on Gipson.

    Could it be that the injury to Harmeling was exactly what he needed? He seemed to be pushing in too hard earlier in the season, maybe getting hurt slowed him down just enough to find his rythem in the offense again.

    Caleb Forrest hit a three?

    How ’bout this one: instead of “the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts,” I’m sick of the “They don’t look good in an airport” comments.

    Out.

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