At 4-20, Oregon State is one of the worst teams in the country. It is the only Power Five conference team remaining without a victory in league play (0-11).
That makes a win over the Beavers that much more important. You don't want to be the team that lets them get their first conference victory, especially when you are fighting for seeding in both the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, which is exactly what the USC Trojans are doing right now.
The Trojans (20-4, 7-4) welcome Oregon State to the Galen Center Thursday night at 8 p.m. in a must win game for USC. The
"At this point, I think it just comes down to not losing to the bottom half of the conference," USC sophomore forward Chimezie Metu said. "We have a tough couple of games coming up against the top, top three or four teams in the league. We just have to go in there and try to win those games.
"When it comes to games like Oregon State, those are the games that we have to win as well. We have to know where teams are in the standings. We try to win every game, but some losses hurt more than others."
A loss to Oregon State would be an absolute RPI killer. The Beavers are currently 298 in RPI, right in front of Tim Floyd's UTEP team, followed by Southeast Missouri State and South Carolina State. USC is currently No. 26 in the RPI, which would make it all but a lock to make the NCAA tournament, but a loss to Oregon State could put a significant dent in that number and but the Trojans back on the bubble.
With a matchup against fifth-ranked Oregon on Saturday night, the Trojans have to avoid falling into the trap of looking ahead one game.
"We've won four in a row and we have a team Thursday night that is capable of getting hot from the perimeter and they have an explosive interior player with [Drew] Eubanks," USC head coach Andy Enfield said this week. "We have to just take it game by game. We're not thinking about the next game on Saturday or the next few games. We haven't talked about that as a team and we're completely focused on the game Thursday."
Here's what to watch, where you can see the game, a flashback to the last time these teams played and the projected starting lineups.
What to Watch:
Bennie's Back! - After sitting out 17 games this season, Bennie Boatwright returned in epic fashion last week. He didn't just make an impact or play a good game. He went straight to scoring a career high. Even though Boatwright played only 21 minutes against Washington, he helped the Trojans pull away in Seattle by scoring 23 points on 7 of 10 shooting. He knocked down 2 of his 4 three-point attempts and made 7 of 8 free throws to lead the Trojans.
You Get a Career High and You Get a Career High - Boatwright wasn't the only Trojan to fill up the stat sheet against Washington. His scoring was undoubtedly the most impressive considering the full two-month layoff and scoring 23 points in 21 minutes, but De'Anthony Melton had the more eye-opening stat line. The freshman guard from Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite set a new career high with 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting. That was great, but what was more admirable was what else he did -- seven rebounds, six assists (to only one turnover), six steals and two blocks. Wow.
Not to be outdone by the efforts of his teammates against the Huskies, Chimezie Metu went out the next game and produced a new career high of his own against Washington State. Metu scored 29 points on 12 of 14 shooting. One of USC's support staff members told Metu that he didn't have to showcase every move and point of emphasis in one game. Instead, he just needed to go out and attack.
"So I was just out there playing and it worked out really well," Metu said. "The fact that my teammates, they were just finding me. Finding me in open spots and I was kind of doing other things other than trying to go one-on-one. Yea, it was working for me and we just kept to that over the course of the game."
Bringing Down the House - Metu also put the entire crowd at Washington State's Friel Court into an abject silence during the first half when he came running in from the three-point line, caught a rebound with one hand outside the body of the backboard and slammed it home with authority.
The crowd's collective jaw dropped to the floor. Earlier this week, Metu talked about his career-high performance, his epic dunk and how he goes about rebounding, including how he knows exactly when to try to slam in a putback rather than bringing the ball down:
Injury Updates - Shaqquan Aaron took a nasty spill at Washington State, landing squarely on his tailbone and lower back. Aaron had trouble sitting and walking without pain on Sunday and Monday. He did not practice at the beginning of the week, but was beginning to be able to walk better by Tuesday and practiced on Wednesday. He is listed as day-to-day for Thursday night's game depending on how his body responds after the practice.
Redshirt senior Charles Buggs continues to have issues with his chronic knee issues. He missed both games on the Washington trip and keeps having his knee drained, hoping it will respond better than the time before each time. He did practice this week and was wearing a knee brace for the first time that we have seen. He is considered day-to-day as well.
Point guard Jordan McLaughlin had some therapeutic bandages on his hip this week after he took a knee to the hip in the Washington State game. McLaughlin has had three or more turnovers in five straight games and was just 4 for 13 from the floor on the Washington trip. He is not expected to miss any time because of the hip injury, but getting him healthy and playing well heading into the three-game stretch all against top 10 teams would be desirable for the Trojans.
Forward Bennie Boatwright continues to spend extra time working with the trainers in his return from his MCL sprain. Along with the guitar he is carrying around for a music class he has, he has been taking home a foam roller to be able to work out the soreness he encounters, particularly in the leg muscles above and below the knee. He was a full practice participant and is expected to be available for both games this week.
Oregon State leading scorer Tres Tinkle remains out with a broken wrist. At one point, it was thought he might return for the game against USC in Corvallis...in December. Now it looks like he could be lost for the season since it doesn't appear to be healing correctly. He was seen with a new hard cast that stretched up beyond his elbow last week.
Beavers guard Stephen Thompson Jr. missed practice this week with a foot injury, according to The Oregonian, but is expected to play after test results came back negative. He is averaging 18.6 points in conference play, including a game-high 24 points against USC in the first matchup this season.
Last Matchup: USC won 70-63 on Dec. 28, 2016.
USC led by 19 only to see Oregon State rally back in the two teams first matchup this season. But the Trojans were able to stay undefeated on the season for one final game, improving to 14-0, by making their free throws down the stretch. USC hit their final 11 free throws and 18 of 22 in the second half while Oregon State's leading scorer Stephen Thompson Jr. went 3 for 10. Chimezie Metu led the Trojans with 19 points and eight rebounds.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 8:00 p.m. PST, Pac-12 Networks (J.B. Long, Steve Lavin).
Radio: ESPN710 AM (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore).
Projected Starting Lineups:
G - Je'Quori McLaughlin (6-4 freshman)
G - Stephen Thompson Jr. (6-4 sophomore)
G - Kendal Manuel (6-4 freshman)
F - Drew Eubanks (6-10 sophomore)
C - Gligorije Rakocevic (6-9 junior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 junior)
G - De'Anthony Melton (6-4 freshman)
G - Elijah Stewart (6-5 junior)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 sophomore)
F - Chimezie Metu (6-11 sophomore)
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