|No. 4 Cougars to play at Southern Cal, No. 5 UCLA|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 09 January 2008 12:38|
The fourth-ranked Cougars' are 11-41 at Southern California and 1-49 when visiting No. 5 UCLA.
But this year Washington State is 13-0 and, for the first time, the highest-ranked team in the Pacific-10. They aren't likely to be intimidated by celebrity opponents like USC's O.J. Mayo and UCLA's Kevin Love.
Not that anyone expects things to be easy.
``We have to play excellent basketball even to be in games like this on the road,'' Washington State coach Tony Bennett said.
Despite going through the nonconference season undefeated and edging Washington in Seattle in the league opener, there are rumblings that these Cougars have benefited from a soft schedule. No team the Cougars have played is getting votes in the Top 25.
That's about to change.
Southern Cal (9-5, 0-2) has played a brutal schedule, but the Trojans have plenty of talent with freshman Mayo, forward Taj Gibson, Davon Jefferson and Daniel Hackett.
``O.J. is so athletic and physical,'' Bennett said. ``His basketball IQ is beyond his years.''
Bennett also expects the Trojans to be motivated after opening league play with losses at Cal and Stanford.
Asked why the Cougars were so good, USC coach Tim Floyd ticked off a list of 15 things he believes they do well. Plus they've had a year to gain confidence.
``Last year, they hoped the success they were having in nonconference would transfer into conference play,'' Floyd said. ``This year they are confident that it will.''
Many people are anticipating a matchup between Mayo and Kyle Weaver, perhaps WSU's most complete player.
Mayo is second in the Pac-10 with an average of 20.1 points per game, and dropped 34 points on Cal. Weaver, a 6-foot-6 senior guard, is a defensive stopper with a long wingspan.
``Kyle is likely to have O.J,'' Floyd predicted. ``I'm not sure O.J. will guard Kyle.''
Bennett said it will be up to the team, not just Weaver, to stop Mayo.
Floyd is more worried about WSU center Aron Baynes, who was 10-for-10 and scored a career high 25 points against the Trojans last March.
``We were responsible for his coming-out party,'' Floyd said. ``Now he's the focal point of what they are doing.''
Saturday's game at UCLA (14-1, 2-0) will mark only the sixth time in Pac-10 history that two teams in the Top 5 faced off. This is also the first showdown between the two teams expected to battle for the league title, which the Cougars have not won since 1941. The return game in Pullman on Feb. 7 is sold out.
The Bruins were not impressed by WSU's magical 26-8 season last year, as they and Oregon were the only Pac-10 teams to sweep the Cougars. Washington State's only victory at UCLA came in 2004, and the Cougars have since lost six games against the Bruins.
``UCLA speaks for itself,'' Bennett said during his weekly conference call with reporters.
The Bruins are led in scoring by freshman Love, who is averaging 16.5 ppg, and will likely get the defensive attention of Baynes during the game. They also feature Darren Collison (12.4 ppg), Lorenzo Mata-Real and Luc Mbah-a-Moute. The Bruins' only loss is to Texas.
Washington State is one of only six undefeated teams in the nation. It leads the nation in defense, allowing only 49 points per game. UCLA allows only 54 points.