This week in WSU Hoops

IF WASHINGTON STATE'S 0-3 start to the Pac-12 men's basketball season seems familiar, you're not hallucinating. It's been awhile since the Cougars kicked off league at 0-3, but there are plenty of slow starts in the team's recent history. And depending on how far you want to go back, the news isn't all that bad.

This is the 12th time since the 1988-89 season that Washington State lost its first three league games.

The last time Washington State lost its first three league games was 2002-03. It's probably not a season the Cougars want to repeat. The 0-3 start soon became 0-14, and WSU eventually finished the Pac-10 season 2-16.

The 0-3 start to the 2002-03 season marked the fourth consecutive year Washington State lost its first three league games. The end result was not pretty in any case. In 2001-02, 0-3 led to a 1-17 league record. Ditto in 1999-2000. In 2000-01, Washington State started 0-3, on the way to 5-13.

But Washington State has also found ways to turn an 0-3 start into something positive. The high point was 1993-94, when the Cougars rebounded from 0-3 to go 10-8 in Pac-10 play and earn an NCAA berth. WSU qualified for the NIT during the 1991-92 and 1995-96 seasons after starting league 0-3.

In four of the 12 0-3 instances since 1988-89, the Cougars rallied to finish league play with at least a .500 record.

So for diehard Cougar basketball fans, it's probably premature to step out onto the ledge. History says there is some hope, even if history can't make a basket or block out for this current team.

The week ahead: That all said, doesn't Wednesday's game against Utah feel like a must-win? The Cougars return to Pullman to play the Utes (8-8, 0-4) at 6:30 p.m. It starts a two-game home stand, as Saturday WSU plays host to Colorado (11-5, 1-3) at 7 p.m. Both games are televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Utah is the leading candidate for the Pac-12's worst team. It's certainly not a game the Cougs want to lose at home if they hope to make something of this season. The Utes have already lost at home to USC, a preseason contender for the Pac-12 basement. In two years as a Pac-12 member, Utah is 0-11 in league road games.

Yet there's good reason to take Utah seriously, as if the Cougars can afford to phone in any game. Last year, the Utes beat Washington State 62-60 in overtime during the lone meeting between the two teams. This season Utah appears to be improved, despite its 0-4 league record. The Utes have some credible road losses this season, losing by a combined seven points at Brigham Young, Arizona and Arizona State.

The Utes are led by senior guard Jarred DuBois, who transferred from Loyola Marymount during the offseason. DuBois was a double-digit scorer during his LMU tenure, and is continuing that production at Utah this season, averaging 13.3 points a game. Also to watch is freshman guard Jordan Loveridge, who averages 12.8 points and 7.4 rebounds a game, and senior post Jason Washburn (10.6 points, 6.3 reb.).

Utah's strength is its defense. The Utes rank No. 6 nationally in field goal defense, as opponents are shooting a stingy 35.7 percent this season. Utah is prone to sloppiness, though, as the Utes have one of the country's worst turnover margins at minus 3.2 per game.

If the Cougars pick up some confidence from a win over Utah, the stage could be set for a sweep Saturday when Colorado comes to Pullman. The Buffaloes are reeling at the moment, and perhaps they haven't recovered from getting jobbed at Arizona on Jan. 3 in what was eventually a 92-83 overtime loss.

Colorado was expected to contend for the Pac-12 title, and while that's still possible, the Buffaloes have a lot of work to do to recover from a 1-3 start. Colorado's inside horse is junior forward Andre Roberson, who averages 10.9 points and 11.8 rebounds a game. Roberson ranks third in the country in rebounds, and has a season high of 20 against Fresno State.

Sophomore guard Askia Booker is Colorado's leading scorer at 14.9 points a game. Booker has a season high of 23 points against Murray State, and has failed to reach double digits just twice this season. Other Buffs of note are sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie (14.4 points) and freshman forward Josh Scott (13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds).

Last season, Colorado ran away early in the second half on the way to a 71-60 win over the Cougars in Boulder, the lone game between the two schools in 2011-12.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

Cougfan Top Stories