Trojans hurt Cougars more ways than one

The blow landed so quickly that most of the Galen Center crowd of 2,518 didn’t seem to notice.

Fifteen minutes into USC’s rout of hapless Washington State on Sunday night, Chimezie Metu appeared to strike Carter Skaggs of the Cougars in the groin as he launched a three-point shot.

On an otherwise unremarkable night, when USC’s 89-71 win made Washington State look every bit the group picked to finish last in the Pac-12 Conference, the wayward left fist of the Trojans’ best player almost imperiled the effort.

Metu had dunked on a fastbreak seconds earlier, as USC built a double-digit lead and found a solution to the defensive breakdowns that plagued last week’s loss to Washington.

After the blow, which left Skaggs stumbling awkwardly toward his bench and sent video clips of the incident rocketing around the Internet, Metu received a flagrant foul and ejection. It was another moment that didn’t go as expected for USC (10-5, 1-1 Pac-12) in an erratic season filled with them.

Coach Andy Enfield said he didn’t see the play. He noted Metu, who is projected as a first-round NBA draft pick and scored his 1,000th career point last week, is a valuable part of the program. Metu wasn’t made available during the postgame news conference.

“If it was poor sportsmanship, then we’ll address it,” Enfield said.

Washington State (8-8, 0-2) responded with an 11-0 run to cut USC’s lead to three points.

But the Cougars couldn’t match USC’s depth, even without Metu’s imposing presence. Elijah Stewart scored 17 points to lead six Trojans in double figures. And, perhaps more importantly, USC’s defense looked nothing like the group that allowed Washington to shoot 73.1% in the first half.

“We knew our assignments, we knew what they wanted to do,” Stewart said. “It felt like there was more urgency in this game.”

Enfield, who sharply criticized USC’s defense after the Washington game, was in a much better mood after Sunday’s effort.

“They’ve been to two straight NCAA tournaments. They’ve won a lot of big games,” Enfield said. “They know what it takes defensively to win big games because they’ve done it many, many times. That’s what I was so upset about Friday.”

Malachi Flynn led Washington State with 21 points. The Cougars’ leading scorer, Robert Franks, fouled out midway through the second half with only nine points.

“We had more energy,” said Jordan McLaughlin, who contributed 10 points and 11 of USC’s 23 assists. “We were playing hard, playing with purpose. We played for the whole 40 minutes.”

UP NEXT

Thursday at Cal, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks — USC dropped its only meeting with Cal last season, a 74-73 loss at Galen Center.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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