Washington State hoops preview

With their ten-point victory over Washington last night, the Cougars of Washington State will meet the USC Trojans tonight in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament.

This will be the third meeting between the two teams this season, with the previous two going to the Cougars by three and two points respectively. The Trojans, however, still match up quite favorably with the Cougars.

Washington State is led by its guard play, namely starters Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. But lately, the team has received a huge boost from fellow guard Taylor Rochestie and center Aaron Baynes.

With Baynes and fellow center Robbie Cowgill in the lineup, the Cougars are afforded the opportunity to play all three guards and still remain somewhat big.

During these teams' last meeting in Pullman, Washington, the Cougars escaped with a two-point overtime victory, thanks in large part to Baynes' career-night. The big Australian connected on 10-of-10 shots from the floor, went five-of-eight from the stripe and nearly doubled his career-high in points, with 25. Baynes followed up that performance with a lackluster, four-point, three-rebound night against the Huskies last night. At this point, I'd expect anything from Baynes.

Rochestie is really the guy to keep an eye on. He won't be the centerpiece of the offense, but he has a knack for getting open looks all over the court, and he's a great shooter. Largely quiet for most of the season, Rochestie has really come on these last two games, hitting the Trojans up for 21 points before leading his team in scoring against Washington, with 20. Those were his only 20-point games of the season.

While it was Baynes and Rochestie who paved the way for a Cougar victory against the Trojans the last time out, the more logical choices will always be Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. Low will consistently draw comparisons to Steve Nash for his style of play and length of hair, and while he is no Nash at this point, he certainly knows how to run an offense. While he doesn't generate a ton of assists from his point guard position, the Cougar offense doesn't really rely on him to do so. He is a guy who can get hot, mostly because of his good shot selection. He's also shooting over 40% from beyond the arc this season.

Kyle Weaver, another guard, is probably the most versatile and athletic guy on the court. He will serve as something of a defensive stopper and will always chip in with a good night offensively. He had a fantastic night against the Trojans the last time out, scoring 15 points, gathering 13 rebounds and dishing five assists. Of course, it was also his foul on Lodrick Stewart's three-point attempt at the end of regulation that helped send the game into overtime.

The Cougars' interior game is aided by the presence of Robbie Cowgill. While he's not exactly a physical player, he does add another big body. Taj Gibson was able to have his way with Cowgill offensively the last time and if head coach Tony Bennett allows the two to square off again, I'd look for Tim Floyd to exploit that match up. Offensively for Cowgill, he's riding a streak of four-consecutive double-digit scoring games, but he isn't a great offensive player. He settled for some outside jump shots against the Trojans that missed badly. If that is their best offensive look several times tonight, the Trojans will be doing a good job defensively.

Daven Harmeling can spell either Weaver or Rochestie for periods and although his production has fallen off of late, he's no stranger to the three ball. He's scored just eight points over his last four games, but he's had 17 games this season where he's launched at least four three-pointers. Included in that is a 7-for-11 game from beyond the arc against Arizona earlier this year.

Overall, Washington State is an extremely disciplined team that makes every single possession count. Last night against Washington, they turned the ball over just eight times while forcing eight steals defensively. The Trojans cannot afford to give away offensive possessions, as they've shown a capacity for recently. It will be especially important to keep up with the Cougars at the free throw line as well. They shoot 71% from the line as a team, but the Trojans have proven they can get the job done there as well, hitting at a 70.8% from the stripe. Getting free points like that in a game decided by every offensive possession will be huge.

The Cougars aren't going to score a ton of points; they average just under 67 a game. So the Trojans should again try to keep things up tempo. They are also not a great rebounding team, even with the recent emergence of Baynes down low. Weaver leads the team with 5.5 per game. It's a lot to ask the Trojans to out rebound anyone, but this is definitely a team where they could get that done.

If the Trojans play the exact same game they pulled off in Pullman last weekend, they should be in good shape. There's no way that Baynes goes 10-for-10 from the floor again tonight and hopefully, the Trojans won't be forced to play with Nick Young, Daniel Hackett and Keith Wilkinson all fouled out of the game. USC should be up for the game tonight after suffering those two close defeats to the Cougars. The match ups seem to favor the Trojans and tonight, we'll see if they can pull out another one.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com and he can be reached at erik.mckinney@gmail.com.


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