USC again learned Saturday how quickly things can go awry for its thin roster when multiple starters are not playing well because of injury, ineffectiveness or a concerted effort on the part of the opposition to shut the Trojans down.
The Trojans were essentially short a starter during their 74-50 loss to No. 17 Washington State because sophomore guard Daniel Hackett was racked with pain because of hip and ankle injuries. Hackett played 24 minutes but had trouble staying with Cougars guard Kyle Weaver, who made all eight of his shots and finished with a game-high 17 points.
USC sophomore Dwight Lewis was also a liability on defense at times and scored six of his eight points in the second half after the Cougars had built a double-digit lead. Since scoring a career-high 24 points against Oregon on Jan. 26, Lewis has averaged 7.3 points and shot 34.4% over the last four games.
Sophomore forward Taj Gibson wasn't his usual frisky self in the post in part because the Cougars continually confronted him with double teams. Gibson took only four shots, making one, and missed both of his free throws.
"We made up a game plan and didn't follow our game plan at all," Gibson said after finishing with two points and six rebounds. "We didn't take good shots, we went one-on-one."
USC Coach Tim Floyd said it was "as well as we've been guarded in a long, long time. I thought they just cut us up."
The bench again didn't offer much support. Freshman guard Angelo Johnson made a couple of three-point shots and finished with eight points, but reserves RouSean Cromwell, Keith Wilkinson and Ryan Wetherell combined for three points in 15 minutes.
Floyd said a healthy Hackett wouldn't have made a difference the way the Cougars throttled his team.
"He could have been King Kong and we couldn't have beaten them," Floyd said.
Any doubts that Washington State is a bad matchup for USC were erased when, for a second consecutive time this season, the Cougars shredded the Trojans' typically stout defense by shooting well over 50%.
"They do a nice job of scheming and putting you in situations that take away the strengths of your defense, and doing so gives them looks," Floyd said.
The Cougars proved adept at working the ball inside for easy opportunities or, when they found the lane clogged, swinging it back outside for open jumpers. USC compounded matters by wearing down late in the shot clock.
"We didn't have a lot of defensive patience," Floyd said. "After 15, 20 seconds into a possession we just broke down. They'd beat us on a back cut, beat us with no help, beat us on a drive . . . and that's what good teams do to you."
Washington State shot 59.6% Saturday and has made 56.8% of its shots this season against USC, which is holding all other Pacific 10 Conference teams to 36.8%.
"I think we need more than one day to prepare for them," Floyd said. "Like a month might be good next time."
Feeling pain in his right hip, lower back and right ankle, Hackett suggested Saturday that perhaps he should rest until he can make a stronger contribution. The Trojans have a week off before playing host to UCLA on Sunday at the Galen Center.
"If I have to go out there and play like that, I'd rather sit out and get healthy because I don't want to hurt the team," Hackett said. "I couldn't stay between Weaver and the basket."
Hackett's back spasms are a lingering symptom of the bruised right pelvis he suffered during a fall Jan. 31 against Arizona, and he compounded his injury woes by spraining his ankle Thursday against Washington.