This Week in Cougar Hoops: Going for UW sweep

THERE ARE worse things than the National Invitational Tournament. The CBI, whatever the hell that is. Or the CIT, whatever the hell that is squared. Or no postseason play at all. Some might even say the third option might be the best outcome of all, if you can't make the Big Dance.

After losing to Pac-10's first and last-place teams in Arizona, Washington State is squarely outside the NCAA tournament field. The Cougars' noses aren't even pressing against the glass any longer. It appears nothing short of winning the Pac-10 tournament will get WSU into the NCAAs.

Oregon State and Arizona State can also say that.

That's what is so disappointing for Cougar fans. WSU shouldn't have the same NCAA shot as the Pac-10 bottom feeders. Or so it seemed almost two months ago, when Washington State was dominating opponents.

That's sort of the beauty of a long season, however. Flaws may not show up in November and December, but good opponents and coaches will expose a team over the course of a five-month season.

The Cougars' flaws have been laid bare for all to see. Can't dominate, and often compete, inside. Too dependent on the 3-pointer. Too dependent on Klay Thompson. Etc.

AND NEXT TIME a big win comes Washington State's way, careful about the predictions. More than a few fans were thinking it, and unfortunately for Klay Thompson, he vocalized it following the Cougars' 87-80 win over Washington to end the first half of the Pac-10 season.

"I think we have a chance to run the table. We can be the best team in the league," Thompson said.

You have to like the swagger, but instead of running the table, Washington State has run itself out of NCAA contention, going 2-4 since the UW win. Best team in the league? Even after the win over Washington, that was still a stretch because UW hasn't figured out how to win away from home -- and the best teams in the league prove it on the road. The Cougars? They're 2-6 in league road play, with perhaps the toughest one left to play, Sunday at Washington.

The next time a big win comes Washington State's way, Ken Bone and the Cougars need to do something with it. Like build on it.

Now -- I still think there's a remote possibility the Cougars can earn an NCAA at-large berth without winning the Pac-10s, but they'll have to win their next five games, some impressively.

Mathematically, the possibility exists. But realistically, the way Washington State is currently playing, the NIT is the only possibility.

The week ahead: One game this week, but a huge one, a Sunday night nationally-televised game at Washington (TV: FSN, 7:00 pm PT). The Huskies (18-8, 10-5) will be looking for blood after losing to Washington State 87-80 on Jan. 30.

Washington State (17-10, 7-8) has had some recent success in Seattle, winning games in 2006, 2007 and 2008. But the last two trips to UW have not been pretty, as the Cougars lost by 20 and 28 points.

Some will still make the case that Washington is the best team in the Pac-10, even though Arizona appears to be on its way to the league title. The Huskies are particularly dynamite at home, 13-0 in Hec Edmundson, all double-digit wins.

Still, Washington State at least knows it can play with the Huskies after its win in Pullman. The Cougars led for the final 23 minutes of their Jan. 30 contest against UW, and never lost control during the second half.

Surely, Washington's Matthew Bryan-Amaning will be a bigger factor this time than he was on Jan. 30, when he went 1 of 8 from the floor and scored six points. You'd also think Isaiah Thomas won't go 3 of 13 again. If the Cougars want to sweep UW, they'll need Thompson's best game of the year, and limit the Huskies' deadly runs that have become the trademark of their home performances.

Statistically, Washington is among the top 10 nationally in scoring offense (85.6 points), scoring margin (15.9), three-point field goals (9.6 per game) and assists (17.9 per game).

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


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