Coming off of its biggest win of the season, an 84-76 victory over then-No. 8 UCLA at the Galen Center, USC will be tasked with traveling up north to take on Washington (9-12, 2-7) Wednesday night.
Entering the Alaska Airlines Arena for its contest against the Huskies, USC and Washington are two programs heading in completely opposite directions.
The Huskies are entering Wednesday night’s matchup in the midst of a three-game losing skid. Washington’s most recent loss came on Sunday against No. 5 Arizona, 77-66. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Trojans have won consecutive conference matchups and will enter their game against Washington just one week after topping a highly favored UCLA team at home.
However, the Huskies do present a threat to USC. In Washington’s loss to Arizona this past weekend, freshman guard Markelle Fultz — one of the most touted players in the nation — finished with 16 points (8-of-23 shooting), nine rebounds and three assists. On Tuesday, Fultz was announced a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, which is awarded to the top point guard in the country. Fultz is also on the midseason list for the Wooden Award, which is given annually to the top player in the nation.
The leading scorer in the Pac-12, averaging 23.3 points per game (No. 6 nationally) this season, Fultz is the only player in the country to be averaging 20 points, six rebounds and six assists per game — and the Trojans are more than aware of the threat he poses.
“[Fultz] is a great player at all three levels. He can score the ball well and gets his teammates involved,” junior guard Jordan McLaughlin said. “We’ve been practicing on keying in on him and knowing where he is at all times defensively.”
Washington currently sits
second-to-last in the Pac-12 standings, only ahead of an Oregon State team that is winless in conference play this season. However, eight of the Huskies’ nine total victories this season have come on their home floor at the Alaska Airlines Arena. Washington is 8-5 overall at home this season and 1-7 on the road.
“We’ve just got to come in really prepared,” junior guard Elijah Stewart said. “We’ve got to make stops in transition, and make someone else on their team be an impact player.”
Stewart’s one-handed putback slam against UCLA was one of the biggest highlights in the Trojans’ victory over the Bruins last Wednesday. Stewart finished the contest against UCLA with 15 points and three steals.
Another emerging threat for USC is redshirt sophomore guard Shaqquan Aaron, who was named the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Player of the Week on Monday for his 23-point effort off of the bench against the Bruins. In a career-best performance, Aaron shot 4-of-9 from beyond the arc to spur on the Trojans’ upset victory.
“Big games, big stage, these are the types of games you want to perform well in,” Aaron said.
Wednesday’s contest with Washington will mark the beginning of the end of conference play for USC; it has only nine Pac-12 games remaining on its schedule this season, including the tilt in Seattle.
“[The Huskies] are scrappy, and they aren’t just going to let anyone walk in there and get a win,” McLaughlin said. “We’re just worried about focusing on the task at hand right now. Practicing, getting better, we just have tunnel vision right now.”
After taking on Washington on the road, USC will remain in the state of Washington for its following contest against Washington State (11-10, 4-5) on Saturday.