PULLMAN, Wash. — USC, mired in ninth place in the Pacific-10 Conference, didn't exactly get the boost Coach George Raveling had in mind.
Patient, ball-hawking Washington State frustrated the Trojans on both sides of the ball and posted a 67-57 win before 4,018 at Friel Court to add to an already frustrating season for USC.
Raveling was hoping his team could win its last four regular-season games so the Trojans would have some momentum heading into the Pac-10 postseason tournament.
There was only one problem. That was WSU Coach Kelvin Sampson's game plan, too.
Now USC, 6-18 overall and 4-11 in conference play, will have to wait until Sunday to try to get the ball rolling. That's when the Trojans visit Washington, a 97-87 loser to UCLA Thursday night.
Things happened to the Trojans Thursday night that coaches have trouble explaining. Balls were dribbled off feet, layins were blown, and somehow a team that its coach says "doesn't have great players" looked great at times.
The Cougars (11-13 and 6-9) put an end to a four-game losing streak by showing patience on offense and intensity on defense.
"There were a number of things that probably contributed to our loss," Raveling said. "One, they forced a tempo conducive to their style of play. Two, they were far more aggressive on defense than we were."
WSU showed why it is the Pac-10's stingiest defense, chasing after loose balls and playing good position defense. "We didn't turn the ball over and we shot at a decent percentage from the field," Sampson said. "When we do that, we're a tough team to play against."
The Cougars shot 52.8% for the game, largely due to their ability to exploit USC's post defense. That allowed 7-foot senior center Todd Anderson to score 14 points, and forward Neil Evans to break out of a slump with 15.
USC, the Pac-10's most turnover-prone team, committed 24 turnovers. WSU had 11.
Yet USC was still in the game late, after clawing back from as many as 13 points. Andy Olivarez, who finished with a team-high 15 points, made one of his three three-pointers to close to 50-49 with 5:58 left in the game.
And the Trojans were still within one, at 55-54, with 3:08 remaining. But WSU turned USC back with a 10-0 spurt as Cougar sharp-shooter Brian Wright, who finished with a game-high 19 points, responded with one of his five three-pointers less than a minute later.
USC brought the ball up the floor but failed to score when Evans drew a charge on Chris Munk, Munk's fifth foul.
The Trojans were credited with just one assist, by Olivarez, as Raveling continues to search for the right combination.
The guard situation was not helped by the fact senior Dave Wiltz missed the game with a bruised thigh, an injury which has also made him doubtful for Sunday's game in Seattle. That forced Raveling to give freshman Duane Cooper into his first career start. Cooper scored only two points.