HOOPS: Perimeter holds the key for Cougs

THERE'S A LAUNDRY LIST of items that Washington State has to check off if they're going to accomplish what no other team, Pac-10 or otherwise, has been able to do this season -- beat No. 12 Arizona on their own floor. But above all else, the Cougs need to do one specific thing in order to win and beef up their postseason résumé.

Play better, tighter perimeter defense.

If Washington State isn't able to play effective defense outside on Thursday night (TV: FSN, 5:30 p.m.) then all the other keys to the game won't matter.

Yes, Ken Bone has WSU (17-8, 7-6) with the best field goal percentage defense in conference play (40.8). But he also has them playing well off their man beyond the arc -- and that's led to far too many open looks at the three. WSU is next to last in conference play in shooting percentage defense from beyond the arc, allowing 36.7 percent.

Sometimes WSU has been fortunate, the shots haven't fallen for their opponents. Other times, like in the killer loss to Stanford, the Cardinal drilled 7-of-8 three-pointers in the first half, forging an insurmountable 45-28 lead. Stanford came into that game No. 192 in the nation in three-point field goal percentage.

EVER NOTICE THAT Klay Thompson has guys stuck in his grill much of the time? WSU will need to do more of that against UA – decrease the amount of separation between themselves and the ball out high.

And especially against Arizona – who leads the conference in three-point shooting at 40.8 percent.

Unless WSU gets a herculean defensive effort inside from players like DeAngelo Casto – plus the refs swallow their whistles against WSU on the road (not likely), Arizona's Derrick Williams is going to get his inside points.

But allowing Williams to score and for Arizona to bomb away from outside would be disastrous for Washington State. And so, just like in football when playing a top notch team, you have to take something away.

And the easiest thing to take away from the Wildcats is not to allow them largely uncontested looks from long range.

WASHINGTON STATE HAS played their best this year when their defense keys their offense -- think back to Baylor and Gonzaga. And while Arizona gets top marks for their 3-point defense since Pac-10 play began (25 percent allowed against Pac-10 opponents), they have put up sub-par statistics defensively inside the 3-point line.

And playing tight, tough perimeter defense doesn't mean the Cougs will need to play soft and/or give up drives to the hoop against Arizona – WSU should still be able to pack in tight as is needed. But they need to get through screens better, and close in faster, on the rock than they have of late if they're going to give their NCAA Tourney hopes a much-needed boost.


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