This Week in Cougar Hoops

THE NINE BIGGEST days of Washington State's basketball season, to date, didn't get off to a good start last Saturday night when the Cougars lost to Arizona 65-63. It's a game WSU could have won, perhaps should have won if the Cougars hadn't got away from what was working so well early in the game. It makes next Sunday's game against Pac-10 leader Washington a... dare I say it?

I dare, indeed. It's a must win.

Washington State plays host to UW on Sunday night (TV: FSN, 7 pm PT) and the Cougars simply can't absorb a loss, end the first half of the Pac-10 slate at 4-5 with five road games remaining during the second half and realistically expect an NCAA appearance.

As back-to-the-wall games go, this is no Oregon. But back to that in a few minutes.

As many online commenters have pointed out, Klay Thompson picked the wrong time to have a bad game. But when you're a shooter, 4 of 16 nights are going to happen on occasion. Sure, Thompson's shooting woes are the most obvious reason for the loss, but more of a factor was the Cougars' sudden offensive impatience during the final eight minutes of the first half.

Washington State moved the ball beautifully in bolting to a 22-10 lead. Then, inexplicably, the Cougars fell in love with a 3-point shot. Nothing wrong with the 3-ball, if you're shooting it within the flow of the offense and generally uncontested. Instead, the Cougars started firing up 3s as if they were trying to impress NBA scouts with their range.

It wasn't pretty. During the final 28 minutes, WSU was 2 of 13 from 3-point range. At least half of the misses were terrible shots fired up early during the shot clock.

Meanwhile, Washington State also picked a bad game to get away from defending the 3-pointer. The Cougars came into the week ranked No. 23 in the country in 3-point defense, but that will change after Arizona blistered WSU with an 11-of-18 performance from behind the arc.

Arizona is hard to beat when your star has an off night, and two strengths – 3-point shooting and 3-point defense – are lacking.

WASHINGTON, THE COUGARS' lone opponent this week, is clearly the class of the Pac-10. The Huskies (15-4, 7-1) are just three points away from a perfect league record. They have, however, played 12 of their 19 games at home, with three more at a neutral site (Maui Invitational, 1-2). On the road, UW is 3-2, losing by two at Stanford and by one at No. 10 Texas A&M.

The basketball Apple Cup has been a streaky series of late. Washington has a four-game winning streak over Washington State, but prior to that, the Cougars won seven consecutive games over the Huskies.

In fact, the last time the two schools split their season series was 2003.

Despite his nine-point performance against Arizona, Thompson continues to lead the Pac-10 in scoring (22.2 ppg) and remains in the hunt for Pac-10 player of the year honors, stock he can enhance with a big game against Washington. The Huskies have a viable POY candidate in junior guard Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 16.9 points and 5.79 assists a game.

And don't think this comment from Thomas a year ago after UW's 59-52 win over Washington State won't come up a time or two in Pullman this week:

"I'm 4-0 as a Husky playing the Washington State Cougars. I'm happy with that," Thomas said.

The Huskies don't need to talk much, because their play of the past month has said a lot. Washington has won six of its seven Pac-10 games by double digits. The Huskies' statistics are that of a Top 20 team. They rank among the country's top 10 in scoring offense, scoring margin, 3-point field goals per game and assists per game. UW's defense is fairly salty, too, as the Huskies rank 46th in the country in field goal defense and 19th in 3-point defense.

Washington State was in the game with Arizona without much from Thompson and shoddy play from behind the arc. If Thompson is his regular self on Sunday night, and WSU commits to getting back to playing their brand of defense, Wazzu wins. However, Washington will embarrass the Cougars if they repeat such a performance as they had against Arizona, even at home.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel


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