The Wildcats will look to build on their late season surge Thursday night, 7 PM PST, against the Washington State Cougars. Arizona will take an 18-8 overall record and 9-4 Pac-12 record into Pullman.
The Cougars will be prepared, coming off a 78-69 loss at Oregon that dropped them to 13-12 overall and 5-8 in conference play. While it may not seem like Washington State has much to play for as it currently sits tied for 8th in the Pac-12, they will be eager to avenge the 61-85 beating they took in Tucson. They have gone 2-3 since the last meeting, winning against USC and Oregon State. Arizona has gone 4-1 with the only loss being against Washington.
While many expect Arizona to win easily and move on to the much-anticipated rematch with Washington, the Cougars shouldn't be overlooked, especially Brock Motum.
The 6-foot-10 junior forward bullied his way to 18 points in 31 minutes the first time around. He was perfect from the free throw line, going 10-for-10, and will likely be called on to shine again. Motum, 230-pounds, pulled down 9 rebounds, all defensive, and was easily Washington State's best scoring threat.
Coming into the game, the Cougars were riding the hot streak of guard Faisal Aden, arguably the team's best player. He was coming off a Player of the Week weekend and was the key player for the Cougars. Instead of shredding the Wildcat defense, Aden went down hard after contributing just 6 points and left the game. Later it was learned that Aden tore his ACL while making a cut on a fast break and will be lost for the remainder of the season.
Without Aden on the court, other players will be asked to step up. Besides Motum, one of these players is 6-foot-1, 180-pound Reggie Moore. The junior guard had 9 points in 33 minutes against Arizona. He also added 4 assists, which is his main game. Moore will still be asked to help run the offense, but has also been called on to be more aggressive. He had 12 points and 6 assists against Oregon
Joining Moore in the back court is freshman guard DaVonte Lacy. At 6-foot-3, 202-pounds, Lacy took over Aden's starting spot midway through the season. The freshman had 6 points in moderate action, 24 minutes, against Arizona. Lacy also added 2 assists, but missed all 5 of his 3-point attempts. He has slowly improved his game since the last time these teams met and has tried to be more of a threat, scoring in double figures twice in the last five games.
Filling out the 3-guard lineup is senior guard Marcus Capers. Capers, 6-foot-4, 185-pounds, is Washington State's glue guy. In 31 minutes, he scored just 2 points, but played good defense, holding Nick Johnson to just 7 points. Capers had 2 assists and only 3 turnovers helping the somewhat stagnant offense flow. The senior grabbed 4 rebounds to finish his stat line.
The last of the starters is 6-foot-7 senior Abe Lodwick. The 208-pound forward is a major presence inside for the Cougars. He was second on the team with 5 rebounds, but also helped Motum hold Jesse Perry to 4 points and 5 rebounds. Lodwick added 6 points of his own, but did little else that can be seen on paper. To his credit, he played great defense and didn't pick up a single foul. He will be looking to stop the steady play of Solomon Hill on Thursday.
First off the bench for Washington State is 235-pound senior Charlie Enquist. The 6-foot-10 forward isn't a huge offensive force for the Cougs, but is a big body on defense. He was the only Cougar with a block against Arizona and made life difficult for driving Wildcats all night. His only downside is that he was unable to contain Solomon Hill, who scored 17 points. Enquist finished with 2 points in 8 minutes.
Arizona should see back-up guard Mike Ladd for the first time this season as well. The 6-foot-5 190-pound, junior didn't play in Tucson, but has steadily been increasing his minutes since Aden was lost for the season. He has averaged 8.5 points in 24.7 minutes the last 4 games. Ladd didn't play at all in the state of Arizona, but will make his first splash on Thursday.
Another back-up big man for Washington State is 6-foot-10 sophomore D.J. Shelton. The 228-pound forward has increased his minutes over the past few weeks and it is starting to pay off. While he only played 11 minutes at McKale, racking up 2 offensive rebounds, 3 total, and 6 points, Shelton played an average of 24.5 minutes last weekend, averaging 10 points. He should see more than 20 minutes this time around and will be trying to be more productive.
Two other bench players that Arizona might see are Will Dilorio and Patrick Simon. The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Dilorio played 8 minutes against Arizona and only had a free throw. While he mostly saw minutes because of Aden's injury, the 188-pound Dilorio grabbed 2 offensive rebounds. He could be looked to for defense as he is a bigger guard with decent footwork.
Patrick Simon has only played 2 of Washington State's last 5 games and was absent for the entire Oregon trip, but could return against the Arizona front line. Simon logged 4 minutes, picking up 2 rebounds to go along with 2 points against the Cats. He should be seen if there is foul trouble or as a quick sub before a media timeout.
After all was said and done this week in practices and press conferences, Arizona needs to focus on the game at hand. The rematch with Washington looms in just two days, but could be all for naught if the Wildcats can't take care of business in Pullman. The Wildcats shot their way to an 85-61 win at home, including 4 three-pointers apiece from Brendon Lavender and Kyle Fogg.
The Palouse has never been an easy place to play for the Wildcats, but this Arizona team has proven to be a tough out on the road this season. If Arizona can focus on Washington State and shoot consistently throughout the night, it will be in good shape. Fogg and Lavender both shot well from outside the arc. As did Hill, who hit 3 of 4. If Arizona wants to control the game, it will need to hit its shots.
Washington State will be looking to exploit Arizona's lack of size once again. If it uses its big men right, most of them could have career games, including Motum. Hitting some outside shots wouldn't hurt either as the Cougars only hit 19 percent from beyond the three-point line.
A final key for the Cougars is to cause turnovers. Arizona only had 9 turnovers at McKale and 3 of those came from a hesitant Angelo Chol. If Washington State wants to stay in the game, it needs to create more havoc on the defensive end.
With all the tournament and Pac-12 title talk, it shouldn't be hard for Sean Miller to motivate his team, even if it is taking it one game at a time. A win may seemingly not mean much, but a loss could damper any hopes of a trip to the NCAA tournament. The Cats need to find it within themselves to pull together and extend their win streak with the season on the line. In other words, win or go home.