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Feb 28, 2024 9:15 am

With dream of Pac-12 title, No. 19 Washington State hosts USC

washington state isaac james

For coach Kyle Smith, the hope for his 19th-ranked Washington State team’s Pac-12 matchup with Southern California in Pullman, Wash., on Thursday night is that he can get back to doling out passing grades.

“We had a couple guys that I felt if it was a letter grade, we had a couple of Fs,” Smith said following the Cougars’ 73-61 loss at Arizona State on Saturday. “You can compete with Cs. …That’s why we’ve had success, is we’ve been steady competitively.”

Washington State (21-7, 12-5) moved briefly atop the conference standings with a dramatic 77-74 win on Feb. 22 at then-No. 4 Arizona. The Cougars rallied from three points down with 51 seconds remaining thanks to Jaylen Wells’ four-point play, his cap on a season-high 27-point night.

With the win, Washington State claimed a season sweep of Arizona along with its eighth consecutive win before the loss to the Sun Devils.

But the slip-up at Arizona State sends the Cougars into their final three games a half-game behind Arizona in the loss column, while the Wildcats will finish with four games.

Washington State may no longer control its course to a regular-season championship and top seed in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament, but the Cougars can rebound to continue building their case for the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.

That trajectory began in earnest with their stretch winning 11 of 12, which began Jan. 10 in a 72-64 win at USC.

For the Trojans (11-16, 5-11) that matchup kicked off a nightmare stretch with six consecutive losses. The previous meeting with Washington State also began an injury-riddled period for USC, as Isaiah Collier exited that game early in the second half with a hand injury and Boogie Ellis played through a hamstring injury that sidelined him in subsequent contests.

Collier missed six games, returning to the lineup on Feb. 7, while Ellis missed three following the Washington State matchup.

USC also played without interior defensive presence Joshua Morgan because of an upper respiratory infection when it last saw Washington State.

Combined with freshman Bronny James’ highly anticipated debut, delayed a month as a result of cardiac arrest suffered in the summer, high-profile absences have been a theme of the Trojans’ season.

They will head into Washington State at full strength, however, winners in two of the past three games, with the loss coming in double overtime against Colorado on Feb. 17. Bookending that were wins over Utah on Feb. 15, 68-64; and at UCLA last Saturday, 62-56.

“We’ve never really had everybody back, so it’s great to have them practice hard,” USC coach Andy Enfield said of players returning from injury. “We’re trying to get a lot of momentum at the end of the season. We’ve been playing really well.”

Ellis, USC’s leading scorer at 17 points per game, struggled offensively, posting single-digits scoring in four of his first five games back from injury. In the past two, however, he went for 30 points vs. Colorado and 24 at UCLA.

Enfield called the performances “the Boogie of old.”

Ellis scored 18 points last time against Washington State to lead the Trojans, while Isaac Jones went for 26 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Cougars.

Jones has five games scoring 20-plus points beginning with the win over USC, and five double-doubles over that same stretch. His 15.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game lead Washington State, while Myles Rice is just behind in scoring at 15.4 points per game.

–Field Level Media

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