PULLMAN - The Washington State Cougars sent 7,126 fans home happy Thursday night.
Make that 7,127 if you count Ken Bone.
“Our guys really played a great game,” the Cougars’ coach said after an 85-77 Pacific-10 Conference triumph over USC at Friel Court. “I’m really, really impressed with the way we played.”
The Cougars led virtually all the way. WSU’s 15-point halftime lead (41-26) was the team’s largest in Pac-10 play, and when the Trojans made repeated comeback bids in the second half, the Cougars pulled away time and again.
“They’re a very good team,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “Very talented. They deserved to win.”
The victory, combined with Oregon’s loss at Arizona State, clinched a first-round bye for WSU (19-10, 9-8 Pac-10) at the conference tournament in Los Angeles next week.
WSU moved into a fourth-place tie with USC (17-13, 9-8) and California (16-13, 9-8). All Pac-10 teams finish league play Saturday, with the Cougars taking on visiting UCLA (21-9, 12-5) at 2:30 p.m. on FSN.
DeAngelo Casto led WSU with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Klay Thompson added 22 points and just one turnover in 39 minutes, and Faisal Aden came off the bench to score 20 points.
“All three of those kids were aggressive to score,” Bone said. “We needed that tonight, especially with Reggie (Moore) being out.”
Moore, WSU’s starting point guard, is questionable for Saturday after going down with a sprained ankle nine minutes into the Thursday’s game. Moore landed on a defender’s foot after taking a shot. His right foot was in a protective boot later.
Thompson shared the point guard duties with Marcus Capers after Moore left.
Casto came up huge while matched against USC star Nikola Vucevic at both ends of the floor.
He sank 10 of 11 shots and played Vucevic – whom Bone called “definitely a (future) NBA guy” – to a virtual draw on the stats sheet. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Vucevic, who sank 8 of 17 shots, led the Trojans with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
“He’s so big, and he has good footwork,” Casto said of his Trojans counterpart.
“That was probably the key to the game – not letting (Vucevic) go off,” Thompson said.
The Cougars shot 55 percent from the field against a USC team that came in leading the conference with 62.2 points allowed per game. WSU had nine turnovers and enjoyed a rare edge in rebounding (35-29) against a physical team that had won its previous four games.
Maurice Jones scored 16 points for the Trojans. Backcourt partner Dante Smith added 14.