Washington State guard Klay Thompson does not miss a lot of shots.
The junior leads the Pac-10 with 81 three-point shots made, converts 41.2 percent of his three-pointers and 90.3 percent of his free throws.
When the Cougars (18-10, 8-8) lost to the Trojans, 60-56, in the Galen Center on New Year’s Eve, however, Thompson struggled to score. With senior guard Marcus Simmons shadowing his every move, Thompson missed 12 of his 18 shots, including his first six attempts of the game.
Despite getting the better of Thompson in their first match-up, Simmons knows he will have his hands full tonight when the two teams meet in Pullman, Wash. at 7 p.m.
“I expect him to be more aggressive, especially since he is playing at home,” Simmons said.
But Thompson has played well as of late. He has averaged 28 points and four three-point baskets made per game in his last three contests.
His 21.2 points per game average is more than two points higher than the next best scorer in the Pac-10.
“He is going to get points,” said USC coach Kevin O’Neill. “We are not going to shut him out. That is impossible, because he is too good. We need to make sure that we defend him as a group, and help Marcus as much as we can.”
As talented as Thompson is, the Cougars are far from a one-man team.
Junior guard Faisal Aden averages 12.6 points per game, although a sore knee has slowed him recently.
Washington State has benefited from increased production from junior forward DeAngelo Casto. In his last six games, he has averaged 15.5 points and eight rebounds per game.
The Cougars are coming off a convincing 80-69 victory over Washington on Sunday, completing the regular season sweep against their cross-state rival.
The Trojans (17-12, 9-7) have also experienced success in recent games.
USC has won four consecutive games for the first time this season after sweeping the two Arizona schools last weekend.
O’Neill made two changes that have contributed to the Trojans’ winning streak.
“Teams cannot double-team me as much as they used to because Donte is a good shooter,” said junior forward Nikola Vucevic.
O’Neill also cancelled Friday practices between Thursday and Saturday Pac-10 conference games to allow the Trojans, who only have seven players in their regular rotation, to rest.
Along with the extra rest, and its rejuvenated guard play, Vucevic has been instrumental in the team’s recent victories.
In the Trojans’ four game winning streak, Vucevic averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. He has six consecutive double-doubles, and is the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Week.
“If there is a guy any more valuable to his team [than Vucevic], I would like to see him,” O’Neill said. “We all know where we would be without [him].”
The upcoming final road trip of the regular season has significant implications for the Trojans’ seeding in the Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center, which begins on Wednesday.
USC is currently in fourth place in the Pac-10. The Trojans only trail third-place Washington by one game, while several teams could leapfrog USC in the standings if the Trojans falter.
“I am not hoping for one scenario or another,” O’Neill said. “We are just going to play the games and see where we are at the end of the season.”
The Trojans conclude the regular season against Washington on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.