Battle of Basement in Pac-12 Features Coaches Heading in Opposite DirectionsPosted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on March 7th, 2014
Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this report after USC and Washington State played Thursday night in Pullman, Washington.
What do you expect when you watch two teams who are in the bottom half of their conference in nearly every rate statistic, the two bottom teams in offensive and defensive efficiency, two teams that have combined for three wins since January? Let’s just call this one “aesthetically challenged” and leave it at that. Whether it’s giving up an and-one off an inbounds play or airballing a free throw, there was nothing that made Washington State look good in its 79-68 home loss to rebuilding USC on Thursday night. Having taken a 36-35 lead into halftime and starting the second half with an 8-0 run including three-pointers from guards DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew and a dunk from forward D.J. Shelton, the Cougars looked to be on track for an easy victory against a Trojans team that hadn’t won since January 22. But USC came out with a 1-2-1-1 zone press that disrupted Washington State’s flow, and a 15-2 USC run turned the tide of the game.
“We knew that they would press at some stage,” Kernich-Drew said. “We got lazy.” In the 12 minutes following the Cougars’ 8-0 run, the Trojans turned a 44-35 deficit into a 70-53 lead, capped off by a three-pointer from USC guard Byron Wesley, who finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds. From there, head coach Andy Enfield’s team weathered a too-little-too-late run and held on for its first road victory since Valentine’s Day 2013 at Stanford. (Back then, Enfield was just a coach at a small Division I school that nobody had heard of unless they were die-hard fans of accurate free throw shooters.) The victory gave USC the tiebreaker for 11th place in the Pac-12, with each two-win team far adrift of the rest of the conference.
Beleaguered Washington State coach Ken Bone faces his second straight last-place conference finish unless his team can upset UCLA on Saturday in the last regular season game for a second consecutive year. (UCLA has split its last 11 Washington road trips, losing nine times at Washington and twice at Washington State; the Bruins beat the Huskies earlier Thursday.) Bone called that task “difficult,” but said it wasn’t impossible. When asked about what it meant to not finish last, some of the frustration accumulated throughout the season showed. “Whether we finish 11th or 12th, it’s not like, ‘Yes, we’re 11th!’ That’s not a big deal to me. What is a big deal to me is I want these guys to end this season on as high a note as possible.”
For a team with a coach that came into the season on the hot seat and hasn’t won a game since February 1, one wonders whether Bone is trying to end his tenure in Pullman on as high a note as possible.