For nine straight games, the USC men’s basketball team failed to produce a single win. Then, on Jan. 28, they put an end to what had been a long losing streak while simultaneously picking up their first Pac-12 victory by defeating the Utah Utes, 62-45.
“It was nice getting the monkey off of our back,” junior center James Blasczyk said. “It shows us that we can win if we play hard.”
Now the Trojans will have a chance to do something they haven’t accomplished since Nov. 30: win back-to-back games.
On Thursday night, USC will take on the Washington State Cougars at the Wallis Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum in Pullman, Wash. The Cougars (11-10, 3-6) have been nearly unbeatable at home, touting an 8-1 record.
They’re averaging 71 points per contest while sporting a 47.2 field goal percentage, ranked No. 48 in the country. USC coach Kevin O’Neill knows his team faces an uphill battle as it travels to the Pacific Northwest.
“What we have to do is play our best game on the defensive end and give ourselves a chance to score offensively by not turning the ball over,” O’Neill said.
The Trojans will try to slow down center Washington State Brock Motum, who is averaging 16.4 points and 6.5 rebounds and most recently put up a career-high 34 points in a 71-67 loss against Arizona State.
“We’re going to have to front his post-ups,” O’Neill said. “He’s also a good outside player and he shoots the ball well. He’s a guy who has developed into a real pro in the last year. Last year he wasn’t a guy that was even a big part of their offense but he’s very talented.”
One of the players who will be responsible for guarding Motum, Blasczyk, is the only true center remaining in the rotation. Blasczyk has been slowed down by a ligament injury in his foot.
“Basketball-wise, it’s pretty difficult, but I always feel like my motor is going,” Blasczyk said. “I have a lot more responsibility but I don’t really feel it. I just feel like going out there and playing basketball.”
Against the Utes, USC benefited from sophomore guard Maurice Jones and sophomore forward Garrett Jackson’s combined 32 points. The Trojans will need more of the same against the Cougars, especially with a depleted roster lacking depth due to injuries.
“With what we’re down to on our roster, with six scholarship players and four of our starters from the beginning of the [season] out for the year, it’s going to be a challenge,” O’Neill said.
Following Thursday’s game, which is set to tip-off at 7:05 P.M. and can be heard on 710 AM ESPN Radio, the Trojans will finish up a two-game set in Washington by taking on the Huskies (14-7, 7-2) on Saturday. For now, O’Neill is satisfied with his team’s preparations leading up to their next few contests.
“I thought the guys have been good,” O’Neill said. “They’ve been good coming off losses, coming off the win on Saturday. They’ve practiced hard, they’ve done their job, and I can’t ask much more of them than that.”