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USC basketball: Washington State pregame

January 21, 2010 |  5:21 pm


Greetings and salutations!

Coming to you from the Galen Center, where it's at least dry, which is a lot better than the rest of the soggy Southland.

(On another note, I've got to ask: What is the deal with these tornado warnings in Los Angeles County? I'm a native Oklahoman, so they're nothing new to me, but I've got to believe they don't happen on just any old day in Southern California, where it's supposed to be infinitely sunny and 72. But I digress...)

Here are some pregame facts and stats to get you ready before USC (11-6 overall, 3-2 in Pacific 10 Conference play) entertains Washington State (13-5, 3-3) at 7:30 tonight (radio broadcast -- 1260):

USC player to watch: sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic (pictured at right).

As I wrote today, Vucevic has been coming on of late, especially his outside shooting. Most of his 19 points against UCLA, which tied his career high, came from the perimeter, though UCLA didn't really go out to pressure him that much. Regardless, Vucevic has been working on that aspect of his game a lot, including shooting from 25 different spots after practice and between classes, if he has time. USC Coach Kevin O'Neill has told the Pac-10's leading rebounder (9.2) to step outside more, whereas earlier in the season he wanted Vucevic to develop his inside game. With Vucevic playing outside, the middle is freed up for forwards Alex Stepheson and Leonard Washington.

Washington State player to watch: sophomore guard Klay Thompson.

Thompson leads the Pac-10 in scoring (22.9) and can shoot the ball whenever he likes, which makes him dangerous because he's smart, mobile and, at 6-foot-6, tall enough to get a shot over most defenders even if they're in his grill. More interesting, though, is that the Ladera Ranch native could have been at USC. Former USC Coach Tim Floyd said last year that Malik Story, another local player from Artesia High in Lakewood, committed to USC early. Floyd thought Story would play the wing, so they took him over Thompson. One problem: Story couldn't get into USC. He ended up going to Indiana and Nevada after that. Thompson would have looked good in cardinal and gold, no?

More interesting than that: Klay is the son of Mychal Thompson, the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 1978 NBA draft.

Key to the game: Fast start.

In the coaches teleconference call this week, both O'Neill and Washington State Coach Ken Bone said getting off to a strong start is key for their team's success. For USC, "hitting the other team in the mouth," as O'Neill likes to say, is essential since it doesn't have a strong offense that can outscore or trim deficits. But if USC can build a lead, it's top ranked defense -- the Trojans rank first nationally in scoring defense (54.7) -- should hold the Cougars down.

Last thing: After USC announced self-imposed sanctions on the men's basketball program on Jan. 3, including a postseason ban, the $64,000 question has been: How would USC respond?

The Trojans then dropped their next two games.

O'Neill said the sanctions had nothing to do with the losses, and Bone said whatever hangover USC might of had appears to be over after the Trojans beat UCLA by 21 points on Saturday.

"My personal feelings are that maybe it took a few days to sink in and it hit them hard, but they sure looked like they were back at it against UCLA," Bone said.

-- Baxter Holmes

Photo credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images