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USC basketball: Offense vs. defense, Simmons vs. Thompson, will be key matchup in Trojans-Washington State game

March 3, 2011 |  9:24 am

Simmons1 The dossier of offensive stars Marcus Simmons has guarded and shut down is a lengthy who’s who of college basketball’s finest perimeter players. 

It started, you might say, in the 2008-09 Pac-10 tournament when Simmons gained notoriety for his defensive performance against California’s Jerome Randle, Arizona State’s Derek Glasser and UCLA’s Darren Collison

Every game since, the USC senior guard is assigned to the best offensive perimeter player on the opposing team. This season, he has guarded Texas star Jordan Hamilton, UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt and Washington's Isaiah Thomas

And most of the time, such as when he faced Randle, Glasser, Collison or the players mentioned above, he and USC win.

“He’s the defensive player of the year, not just in the league, but in the country,” USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said this week. 

But when the Alexandria, La., native thinks back to the best players he’s guarded, it takes him only a second to rank Washington State junior guard Klay Thompson.

“He’s right up there toward the top,” Simmons said. “I’ll give him all the kudos.”

Simmons will guard Thompson on Thursday night as USC (17-12, 9-7 in Pacific 10 Conference play) faces Washington State (18-10, 8-8) in Pullman, Wash. (The game will be broadcast on radio's 710 ESPN.)

Thompson is averaging a Pac-10 high 21.4 points per game this season and scored 18 against Simmons and USC earlier this season when the two met in Los Angeles in a 60-56 USC win.

Thompson shot six of 18 from the field and made four of five from three-point range in that game, and Simmons said he expected Thompson to be far more aggressive Thursday.

“He’s gifted offensively, so he’s the biggest challenge of anybody in the Pac-10,” Simmons said. “He’s the best offensive player we have.”

Thompson is the career-active points leader in the Pac-10 (1,622). He has scored 20 or more points 17 times this season and 37 times in his career. He has scored 30 or more points four times this season, with a season high of 36 in an 88-81 loss at California on Jan. 13.

"I think Klay, if he was bulked up another 10-15 pounds, would be a legit NBA prospect at the two guard" position, O'Neill said. "That tells you what kind of ability he has. He’s a knockdown shooter. I think he’s great at getting to the basket. He’s a way better athlete than people think he is. And he’s so explosive that if you let down for a five-minute period, the guy can knock down nine, 11, 13 points."

What makes Thompson so tough to guard?

“He’s so crafty with the ball and he uses screens well,” Simmons said.

Simmons is a physical defender, using his strong, 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame to body up offensive players.

But he’s often in foul trouble. In 12 games this season, he has been whistled for at least four fouls. He has fouled out just once, though.

Simmons says he usually can tell early in the game how it is going to be officiated, which dictates how he plays defense.   

"If I get the first foul in the first four minutes, I know they’re going to be calling it tight so I know I have to back off and be less aggressive," he said. "If I don’t have it, I’ll be more aggressive and more physical."

Since USC is playing on the road, it's doubtful he'll get any friendly calls. 

But then again, he'll know that in the first four minutes. 

-- Baxter Holmes

Photo: USC's Marcus Simmons. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez / U.S. Presswire