On the other hand, it's ridiculous to think the Cougars were flirting with even a top three or four finish in the Pac-12 this year. Ernie Kent is getting the maximum out of this team; for example, Jordan Railey has four double-digit scoring performances in his last nine games. A year ago, he had two all season. There's Josh Hawkinson, and Brett Boese and we could go on.
But Xs and Os and motivational tactics can only take a team so far. It has to have talent to run with the best, and the Cougars aren't there yet.
Nonetheless, this team is still capable of achieving some good things this season, and it can start this week with California and Stanford. Namely, how about a Pac-12 weekend sweep for a change?
Remember the last time that happened? You're forgiven if you don't. It was 2013, when the Cougars swept UCLA and USC during the final home series of the season.
In fact, Washington State has a chance to do something this season it hasn't accomplished since 2007: sweep multiple Pac-12 home weekend series. The Cougars swept three of four Pac-12 series in Pullman in 2007. Since then, they've swept only five league home series, in 25 attempts.
That three-game losing streak can fade into oblivion if the Cougars sweep Cal and Stanford this week.
The week ahead: The Cougars (9-10, 3-4) return to Pullman to play their second Pac-12 home series of the season. At 8 p.m. Thursday, it's California (11-9, 1-6), followed by a 5:30 p.m. Saturday game against Stanford (14-5, 5-2). Both games are televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
Though Washington State has yet to face the Los Angeles or Arizona schools this season, the schedule has the Cougars playing the Bay Area schools for a second time to complete the first half of the Pac-12 schedule. It's a bittersweet reunion, as the Cougars have a win over California, but opened the league season with a loss to Stanford.
Most factors point to California as the easier of the two home games. The Bears are No. 172 in this week's KenPom rankings, while Stanford is No. 31 (the Cougars are No. 192). California is tied for last in the Pac-12 with USC, while the Cardinal are one game out of first place. WSU controlled most of the action in its Jan. 4 win over California, but couldn't keep pace during the second half against the Cardinal.
California is right there with UCLA as the Pac-12's most disappointing teams. Earlier this season, the Bears were regulars in ESPN's Bracketology. The would-be Big Dance Bears are a fading memory after dropping eight of their last nine games, the lone win coming over Washington.
Cal drags a six-game losing streak into Pullman. The Bears are coming off an embarrassing home series against the Arizona schools, where they lost 79-44 to Arizona State and 73-50 to Arizona. Since losing 69-66 to WSU, Cal has lost its last five games by an average margin of 20 points.
Kent is already painting California as dangerous, as you might expect. Sophomore guard Jabari Bird is beginning to round into form after returning from a foot injury two weeks ago. The Bears were once a good team, and may just need a strong performance to get going again. Why not WSU?
The Cougars should say, why not Cal? If Washington State can jump early on the Bears, their wounded spirit may deflate even further. Clearly the Cougars should know how to play and defend this team.
The two players that hurt WSU most during the first go-round were guards Jordan Mathews and Tyrone Wallace. Mathews hit 8 of 16 from the field -- including four 3-pointers -- and scored 24 points. Wallace didn't shoot well, but scored 16 points against the Cougars. WSU, which has often struggled on defense this season, held the Bears to a shooting percentage of .379.
Washington State controlled the inside last time against Cal, as Hawkinson had 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Railey scored 17 points. California has a decent big man in David Kravish, who collected 10 boards against the Cougars.
Meanwhile, Stanford presents a formidable challenge. The Cardinal have won eight of their past 10 games, the losses coming to Arizona and UCLA. Stanford has firmly wedged itself into NCAA tourney consideration; Bracketology says the Cardinal would be an eight seed if the bracket were drawn today. They just dropped out of the Top 25 polls after a split with the Arizona schools.
What's most impressive about Stanford, aside from its 14-5 overall record, is its scoring of late. The Cardinal put up 82 and 89 points last week against the Arizona schools, after averaging 82 points the previous week against UCLA and USC. The Cougars like to run, but might not have the horses to match Stanford in a track meet.
The Cardinal's strength is their 3-point game. Stanford is shooting .409 from behind the arc (137 of 335), the bulk of its production coming from guard Chasson Randle (50-127) and forwards Anthony Brown (43-91) and Rosco Allen (23-61).
Washington State did a decent job of containing Randle, the Pac-12's leading scorer at 20.2 ppg, in its Jan. 2 game. Randle went 5 of 13 from the field, and made only one 3-pointer, on the way to an 18-point performance. Not terrible, considering Randle has scored at least 24 points in four of his seven Pac-12 games this season.
Also look out for Brown, among the Pac-12's top 10 in scoring (15.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg).
Clearly, the Cougars will have to improve offensively to have a shot at knocking off the Cardinals. In the first meeting, WSU shot only 32.6 percent from the field. Hawkinson scored 11 points, all from the free throw line as he went 0-of-7 from the floor. But WSU may have to improve more on the defensive end to upset the Cardinal. The Cougs have allowed teams an average of 82.8 points over their last five games.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel