Tipoff: 7 tonight, Beasley Coliseum, Pullman
Records: USC 17-12 overall, 9-7 Pac-10 Conference: Washington State 18-10 overall, 8-8 Pac-10 Conference.
Players: Nikola Vucevic has emerged as the Pac-10’s premier big man, averaging 17.5 points and 10.3 rebounds a night. The 6-foot-10 junior from Montenegro has averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds in the last nine games. Fellow forward Alex Stephenson – a transfer from North Carolina – averages 10 points and 8.8 rebounds a game for USC team holding opponents to a conference-low 62 points per contest. Washington State is led junior guard Klay Thompson, a Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate. The 6-foot-6 Thompson has a clip of 21.4 points, four assists and 5.1 rebounds. Junior post DeAngelo Casto (11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) has also blossomed into one of the league’s best.
Game themes: If sixth-place Washington State wants to avoid the bottom four and a first round play-in game in next week’s Pac-10 tournament, it may need at least a split with the L.A. schools in Pullman. Late-surging USC, which has won five of its last six games, defeated WSU 60-56 in the first conference swing of the season. The Trojans sit in fourth in Pac-10 standings and fell to WSU twice a year ago. If the oh-so-inconsistent Cougars can bring their momentum from their 80-69 dispatching of rival Washington on Sunday into the last week of regular-season play, a top-five finish in league could be in the works.