I don't know if the Trojans are going to win this game, but I'm going to flat-out guarantee that Aron Baynes won't go 10-for-10 from the field tonight. Last Saturday, I may have made a joke that he was the Baynes of my existence, but I can't really be sure.
Looking at this Trojan starting lineup is depressing me a little bit. I just can't get pumped up about a three-guard, two-forward lineup. I mean, USC is missing an entire position. It's like the Dodgers sending out four outfielders and no catcher.
It's just a few moments into the game and let's just say that the Trojans aren't lighting things up offensively early on. Taj Gibson hit 1-of-2 free throws, Nick Young threw a bank shot off the backboard below the rim, and Gibson followed that with a blown gimme lay-up.
Pruitt just nailed a three and somehow put the Trojans up by two.
RouSean Cromwell gets hit with a blocking foul. That's about the fifth time in the last two games that Cromwell has been hit with a blocking foul after sliding in front of a shooter a second too late. The Trojans can't afford to let their big guys get into foul trouble early. I mean, they shouldn't let anyone get in foul trouble early, but if guys like Cromwell, Wilkinson and N'Diaye can't take fouls against the opponents' bigs late in certain games, Gibson and the rest of the Trojans will be in trouble.
Pruitt nails another three-pointer. Don't worry, I'll go into my "Pruitt should be taking these shots with assists from Daniel Hackett" rant later on.
USC has had some very good defensive possessions thus far. They just forced a shot-clock violation. Gabe Pruitt is doing a great job on Derrick Low.
I can't believe I'm going to agree with announcer Marques Johnson, but he's right when he talks about how many fouls have occurred on three-point attempts in this tournament. Pruitt just benefited from one right there. Stanford gave USC the win last night by giving Daniel Hackett a four-point play late in regulation.
There's O.J. Mayo reference number one. Keep ‘em coming Steve. They always make me smile.
Nick Young hits a three off a feed from Pruitt. I really like the amount of three-point attempts from the Trojans this season. Like the last few years, they shoot a ton of them. But this season, at least there's a point to most of them. They come in the flow of the offense, after great passes or screens, or just plain wide open. And as I finish writing that, Stewart nails his second three in a row to make it 21-14 Trojans.
Continuing on the three-point shooting, it also seems like the Trojans know when to stop shooting threes. They're unconscious from beyond the arc right now, but they know it won't last for 40 minutes. I'd look for them to cool down at some point and then take the game inside.
Washington State looks like the USC teams of the past couple years right now. They're settling for long jumpers with the shot clock running out. The shot clock thing is probably by design, but the Trojans are forcing them away from the basket nicely.
Even when he plays great, I just can't take Taylor Rochestie seriously. Anyone who looks like they would be picked last in an elementary school kick ball game just doesn't intimidate me on a basketball court.
With just under ten minutes left in the first half, the Trojans have already hit five three pointers. In fact, Lodrick Stewart just made the Trojans' first two-pointer with a jump shot.
We've got a Pete Carroll sighting.
Gabe Pruitt just answered a Daven Harmeling three-pointer with a three of his own.
Nick Young hits a three-pointer. That's it. I'm copying the phrase, "hits a three-pointer" onto my clipboard and just inserting a name before it from now on. I mean, this game couldn't be going better for the Trojans. When they are shooting like they are right now from outside, the Cougars are absolutely helpless to stop it. Their guards aren't big enough to bother the shots and they don't have enough athletic people to keep up with Young, Pruitt and Stewart all at once.
Gabe Pruitt hits a three-pointer. And because of my clipboard, that sentence took me half as long to write. Forget about a heat check, Pruitt has an invitation to shoot for the rest of his life.
Nick Young covering Robbie Cowgill right now is exactly what scares me about USC's Tournament hopes. Young is a great player, but sooner or later, a team is going to have a forward with Cowgill's height mismatch over Young who can actually pose an offensive threat.
I don't mean to jinx it, but isn't Aron Baynes on this team? There are just over four minutes left in the first half and I don't remember him ever touching the ball.
Hey, it's Abdoulaye N'diaye. He looked good knocking down those free throws. I can't even express what a huge boost it would be to get some positive minutes out of him during the next few games. He doesn't even need to score. Just log some good defensive minutes and make the opposing center work for shots. When he comes in, I think Trojan fans should all work their hardest to channel Ben Wallace.
USC is absolutely playing lights out defensively. At halftime, the Cougars are going to be pleased with about 30 percent of their offensive possessions.
Gibson really needs to work on his close finishing. There are far too many opportunities to drop something in close that end up rattling out. He has some excellent moves and can find his way around most opposing centers. But when he gets a chance to finish a somewhat awkward shot, he has a tough time getting it to go down.
The Trojans are falling apart here with just over a minute left in the half. The Cougars have scored six points in about two seconds because of Trojan defensive lapses. Although, Cowgill's last lay-up had a striking resemblance to Lodrick Stewart's lay-up that earned him an offensive foul.
That's just an unbelievable shot by Derrick Low to end the half. When Kyle Weaver went down to the ground, I thought the Trojans would get out of it without giving up a shot. I still can't believe that one went in.
I don't know if it's the mark of a young team, a tired team or just the nature of the game, but the Trojans are capable of putting together some stretches of absolutely terrible basketball. Of course, I'd be remiss to not mention the fact that they also have the potential to score 12 points in eight seconds. The most interesting thing about this team though, is that I don't know if they could win these games if those swings leveled out into one even flow. It's almost like they need those droughts to enable those big runs. Hopefully their big run wasn't at the start of the game and they've got another one in them.
It might be a good thing, however, this little stumble at the end of the half. The Trojans need to realize that Washington State will not be blown out and they can use the halftime to regroup rather than starting the second half up by 11 or so and having to withstand the Cougar comeback without the aid of a long break. This seems like a good time to mention that Washington State is 9-1 this season when trailing at halftime. Actually, now that I think about it, it never seems like a good time to mention that.
You can feel Nick Young just sort of biding his time during this game. He already has ten points on four-of-six shooting, but there's the potential for seven or eight of those midrange jump shots during this second half. (By the way. Young went 0-1 in the second half and sat out for long stretches. Go me.)
Gibson was just fouled by Baynes going up for a lay-up and again couldn't finish. Although, two positives from the play. Baynes picked up his third foul and Gibson nailed both free throws.
Here comes some pressure by USC. I like the call. The Cougars have been able to settle into a rhythm with their offensive possessions and this should at least mix things up a bit.
Gibson has taken it over Baynes twice now in the last few minutes. I'm taking notice.
Nick Young had a terrible lapse in judgment. After making a great steal, he got lazy with his dribble and let Kyle Weaver steal it right back. In a game like this, where every possession is so vital, a play like that could be huge at the end.
Pruitt with a nice steal and outlet pass to Stewart. I love watching Pruitt play defense. He's probably played a better game than tonight, but I certainly didn't see it.
With 13:12 left, it's 48-41 Trojans, but Low just hit a three pointer, which was just the second field goal for the Cougars this half.
And Pruitt hits another three-pointer to push the Trojan lead to 53-44 with 10:46 left. He has been amazing tonight, offensively and defensively. I know Derrick Low has hit four three-pointers of his own, but nothing has come easily for him.
Daniel Hackett just took a knee to the chest from Daven Harmeling and no foul was called. What is it about basketball that makes the officials so inconsistent?
Pruitt drains another three, pushing the lead to ten with 9:30 remaining.
Stewart can be difficult to watch sometimes. When he feels he isn't getting looks in the offense, he'll launch some silly shots early in the clock. That was one of them.
That bad shot by Stewart has sent the Trojans on one of their mini tailspins. After Rochestie hit a three, the Trojans threw the ball away and then immediately allowed an offensive rebound for a put-back basket. Now it's a five-point game, 56-51.
I can't stand watching the Trojans fall asleep when the opponent takes a shot. They give up so many offensive rebounds it's inexcusable. Baynes just came in and got one completely uncontested. These result in far too many second chance points for the opposition.
The slide is continuing through the 5:00 mark. Daniel Hackett missed the front end of a one-and-one, Baynes came up with that offensive board, Taj Gibson gave the ball away on an offensive possession and USC just allowed another offensive rebound to the Cougs. Oh yeah, Gabe Pruitt just went down hard and is out of the game. I'm changing seats.
Stewart calms things down a bit by drawing the fourth foul on Baynes and dropping the subsequent free throws. When he understands his roll as a supplemental player who can wait in the wings until he's needed, he can be a huge bonus.
Pruitt is back in the game. No word yet on whether or not the Trojans get an automatic three points for that.
USC just put together two solid defensive possessions, forcing long shots from Weaver and Cowgill.
Gibson goes up strong inside to push it to 60-52 with 3:30 left. He's really shown me something in terms of finishing shots inside. I didn't think he would be this effective after starting the game the way he did. Gabe Pruitt is going to get all the accolades, but Gibson has been a huge part of this game and should end up with a solid stat line.
Taylor Rochestie is doing himself no favors in the world of kick ball. Now it looks like he can play, but I don't like him enough to pick him. His three makes it 60-55.
Lodrick Stewart gets nailed for another offensive foul and all I can think about is the knee that Daniel Hackett took earlier in the game.
Stewart needs to get all over Rochestie behind the arc. If Rochestie wants to try beating him off the dribble and throwing something up over Gibson, that's fine by me. But allowing him to take three-pointers, something he's obviously capable of hitting, is silly.
Wilkinson and Gibson combine to miss three out of four free throws. I'm remembering those three points at the end of the game.
I've forgiven Wilkinson. He just came up with a huge offensive rebound and put back. Apparently all we need to do is convince him that every single game is the last minute or overtime of a game against Washington State. I think we could see some tournament scoring records fall. That makes the score 63-55 with just under a minute remaining and will probably go down as the play that put the game away.
For as well as he played all night, Derrick Low has blown two or three fabulous chances to get his team back in it by missing three pointers.
That's it. From now on, it's Aron Baby. I've never seen a guy whine so much.
Stewart gives Rochestie a clear look from outside and he nails the three. Why would you continue to give him that shot? There's no way he can beat you with a dribble and get all the way to the basket. Besides, the only possible shot is a three-pointer at this stage in the game. By the way, it's 65-58 with 34.9 left.
And another Pete Carroll sighting.
It's down to free throws for the Trojans. Pruitt gets a shooter's roll on the first one. Why not? He deserves it.
Low misses another three. He may just want to take himself out of the game now. He's missed nine three pointers tonight. Gabe Pruitt has taken just nine shots tonight and has 11 more points. I'm going ahead and giving this round to Pruitt.
How fitting for Gabe Pruitt to make the final two free throws of the game and push the winning margin to 70-61.
Another great win for the Trojans. Earlier, I just threw out that theory that USC needs those up and down swings during the course of the game, but now I'm truly starting to believe it. Washington State almost looked suckered into thinking they would come back in this game when Rochestie's three cut the lead to five. But the Trojans blew back with a vengeance and locked up defensively, swinging the momentum back their way for good. As long as those swings don't last too long or go too low, they have the talent to stay in the game with most teams in the country.
How about the game turned in by Taj Gibson? He still allows too many offensive rebounds to the other team, but he was an actual inside force against the Cougars. After the first several minutes, he finished all of his shots strong to the hoop and pulled down nine total rebounds. On top of that, he went 9-of-11 from the free throw line. In fact, the Trojans got to the line 33 times as a team compared to the Cougars' eight attempts. Of course, Washington State has only themselves to blame, hoisting 30 three pointers.
But as well as Gibson played, this game belongs to Gabe Pruitt. 26 points on seven-of-nine shooting and six-of-seven from the line, three rebounds, three assists and was a huge factor in the Cougars shooting 36 percent from the field as a team. When Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt have back-to-back games like they did against the Cardinal and the Cougars, you can't envy Oregon coach Ernie Kent.
I've really enjoyed watching the Trojans during these past two games. Stanford and Washington State offer much different styles of play and with two wins, the Trojans should be feeling good. It will be difficult to carry that over to tomorrow, especially because the Trojans were stuck with the Friday late game, but USC is riding high right now. Hopefully they'll get to bed right away because they've got to get up early tomorrow if they want to go Duck hunting.
Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.