USC men’s basketball hosts Washington State in final homestand

first_imgThree nights removed from a gut-wrenching one-point loss to Arizona State in Tempe, the USC men’s basketball team (21-8, 8-8) takes the court at the Galen Center on Wednesday in search of its first win in 20 days. The Trojans’ opponent: the Washington State Cougars (13-15, 6-10).“We’ve been impressed with Washington State all season,” head coach Andy Enfield said after Tuesday’s practice. “Coach [Ernie] Kent’s done a great job with them, especially in Pac-12 play.”The two teams last met on Feb. 3 in frosty Pullman, Wash., where USC rode a hot offense to an 86-77 win. The Trojans shot 57 percent from the field in that contest and rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first half. Sophomore forward Chimezie Metu scored a career-high 29 points, and freshman guard Jonah Matthews added 18 off the bench. The Trojans left Washington with a sweep for the first time in 15 years, a healthy squad for the first time all season and a four-game win streak in tow.This time around, USC carries a four-game skid into Wednesday night’s game, which is threatening the Trojans’ postseason hopes. It’s their longest losing streak in two years.“It’s a different sort of feeling,” junior guard Elijah Stewart said. “We let a couple games go that we should’ve won. We’ve just got to finish out strong right now.”But morale is not down, and intensity has ratcheted up.“Practice has gotten a little chippy,” Stewart said. “We’re all competitors. We all enjoy the intensity. It’s going to make us better in games.”USC expects to earn a postseason berth, whereas Washington State knows it has two games left to play this year. That spells danger for USC, as the veteran Cougars may come into this contest ready to empty the tank. On Sunday — Senior Day in Pullman — all four Cougar seniors scored in double figures to beat favored in-state rival Washington, 79-71.“We have to play as hard as we can, and whatever happens happens,” Enfield said.Two seniors in particular, guard Ike Oroegbu and forward Josh Hawkinson, have paced the Cougars throughout the season. Oroegbu scored 22 versus the Trojans earlier this month, and he has scored at least 15 points in four of WSU’s last five contests. For the season, he is averaging 12.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.Hawkinson, meanwhile, has found his place in the annals of Cougar basketball. Last time versus USC, he became WSU’s second all-time rebounder — a testament to his four years of hard work in the paint. He finished that game with 17 points and 16 rebounds. On Wednesday night, he could set the school record with 11 more boards. Enfield called Hawkinson a “double-double machine.”On the other side of the court, USC will be significantly younger, playing no seniors and three freshmen.“Our freshmen have had terrific seasons,” Enfield said. “They’ve been a little streaky, but most freshmen are. We would not have 21 wins without our four freshmen contributing. They’ve got to play like sophomores the last week of the season and into the tournament.”For USC’s postseason aspirations to stay alive, those freshmen will have to help USC get at least a 22nd win Wednesday versus Washington State.“We’re taking it one game at a time,” freshman guard De’Anthony Melton said. “If we start looking too far forward, we might lose to a team we should beat.”last_img read more