MATCHUP: WSU vs. Southern Cal

SO WHAT'S THE key matchup tonight when Washington State hosts USC at 7 p.m.? Some, like the L.A. Times, say it's Klay Thompson vs. Marcus Simmons.

And that makes sense. Simmons is the best defender on the Trojans (17-12, 9-7 in Pac-10), regularly assigned to the opponent's best offensive perimeter player and there's no question for Washington State that's Klay Thompson.

USC coach Kevin O'Neill isn't shy in heaping praise on Simmons. He was quoted by the L.A. Times this week as saying Simmons is not only the defensive player of the year in the Pac-10, but also all of college basketball.

In the first meeting, Thompson scored 18 against Simmons in Los Angeles. But Thompson shot only 6-of-18 in that game and most importantly, USC won 60-56. Where Thompson excelled and scored most of his points was from beyond the arc, going 4-of-5.

But the game tonight is on the home floor of the Cougars (18-10, 8-8), and some expect WSU's game plan involving Thompson on the offensive end will call for more drives to the bucket.

Getting Simmons in foul trouble, and/or Thompson piling up points from closer in would be beneficial, in combination with whatever 3-pointers he might connect on. That's how that school of thought goes, anyway.

Thompson leads the conference at 21.4 ppg.

BUT ANOTHER KEY, and perhaps even a bigger one to the game's outcome, is when Washington State is on defense -- the Cougs have to figure out a way to limit 6-foot-11 Nikola Vucevic.

He's the No. 2 scorer in the Pac-10 behind Thompson (19.2 ppg) and he leads the conference in rebounds per game (10.1).

And Washington State has had trouble on the boards this season.

The good news if you're a Washington State fan is that DeAngelo Casto is coming off a 13-board performance in the win over UW. What will bring you back down to earth, however, is that in that same game, Washington claimed 24 offensive rebounds against WSU, and outrebounded the Cougs 44-36.

USC is also on a four game winning streak that included a victory over then-No. 10 Arizona.

Vegas, however, is unimpressed with USC prospects out on the Palouse – they've installed Washington State as a 4-point favorite.

FROM THE INTANGIBLES department, keep an eye on how both teams come out to start the game. Both WSU and USC have had several days of listening to the pundits describe it as a must-win if they're to have any hope of landing an at-large bid in the NCAA Tourney.

So it might not be a surprise if both teams come out tight.

The first team to relax, gather momentum and make the game's first scoring run might just ultimately carry the day.

NOTABLE NOTE:
The WSU-USC game is radio-only and is not being televised -- it can be seen via webcast on wsucougars.com for a fee.


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