This Week in Cougar Hoops

THIS WASHINGTON STATE men's basketball season of highs and lows is down to seven regular season games, including five inside the friendly confines of Beasley Coliseum, followed by the Pac-12 tournament. It's been a wild ride for the Cougars under first-year coach Ernie Kent, but there remains hope that this season can bounce onto an upward glide path over the next four weeks.

Washington State has slipped to 10th in the Pac-12 standings after losing six of its past seven games. But with a favorable finishing schedule, the Cougars have a chance to make a late-season push and earn a decent Pac-12 tournament seed.

Outside of Arizona, WSU should have a chance to win any of its remaining games. Odds are, the Cougars won't. But a 4-3 finish improves WSU's league record to 8-10, and that should be good for a No. 8 or 9 seed in the tournament.

What would you call a successful season? To me, the minimum standard of success from here is playing competitively in the final five home games, winning three, and splitting the remaining road trip, to Los Angeles. That positions the Cougars for a winnable Pac-12 tourney game as probably an eight or nine seed.

What I've outlined is a final record that includes at least 15 wins. With this current roster and the dramatic culture and style overhaul under Kent, a 15-win season is a solid start to returning some respect to Cougar basketball.

The week ahead: The Cougars (10-13, 4-7) are off until Friday, when they play host to Arizona State (12-11, 4-6) at 8 p.m. At 3:30 p.m. Sunday, WSU entertains Pac-12 co-leader Arizona (20-3, 8-2). The ASU game is televised on the Pac-12 Network, the Arizona game on Fox Sports 1.

This is Washington State's first and only regular-season look at the Arizona schools. In the latest KenPom college basketball ratings, Arizona is No. 3, Arizona State No. 44 and Washington State No. 198 (the Cougars are last in the Pac-12).

Up first is Arizona State, a team that has somewhat righted its ship after a very rocky going a month ago. The Sun Devils lost their first four Pac-12 games, though it was somewhat foreseeable as the schedule included Arizona and Utah, and three of the first four on the road. But since the 0-4 start, ASU has won four of six, including a stunning 81-78 win over No. 6 Arizona.

Still, one recent road trip shows it hard to know you're going to get from Arizona State. When they traveled to the Bay Area three weeks ago, the Sun Devils routed Cal, holding the Bears to 44 points. Three days later, ASU gave up 89 points in a lopsided loss to Stanford.

Arizona State is one of the Pac-12's top shooting clubs at .455 this season. It's a good thing, because the Sun Devils are one of the league's worst at defending shots, as they're 10th against the 3-pointer (.356) and 11th overall (.438). (For the record, WSU is last in both categories).

This is a typical Herb Sendek team in that Arizona State plays at a modest tempo, looks for good shots and doesn't have a lot of star power. The Sun Devils don't have a single player among the Pac-12's top 25 in scoring or top 15 in rebounding. (For the record, WSU has a top-five scorer in DaVonte Lacy (pictured above) and the league's leading rebounder in Josh Hawkinson).

Senior guard Shaqielle McKissic leads Arizona State in scoring at 11.0 points per game. Just two games ago against Oregon, McKissic scored a season-high 24 points. Junior guard Gerry Blakes (10.4 ppg) and sopjhomore forward Savon Goodmon (10.1 ppg) also average in double figures. Junior forward Eric Jacobsen leads ASU in rebounding at 6.2 per game.

The weekend's toughest nut to crack is Arizona. The Wildcats have three losses by a combined nine points. But all have come on the road, including at Oregon State. So you're saying the Cougars have a chance...

In the Pac-12, Arizona is second in scoring (75.0 ppg), third in scoring defense (59.2 ppg) and second in scoring margin (plus-15.8 ppg). The Wildcats rank among the Pac-12's top five in field goal and 3-point scoring and scoring defense.

Like Arizona State, the Wildcats aren't driven by obvious stars. Arizona doesn't have a single player among the Pac-12's top 10 in scoring or rebounding. UA's leader is 6-7 freshman forward Stanley Johnson, a two-time Pac-12 player of the week this season who averages 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Arizona has two other double figure scorers in junior guard Brandon Ashley (11.4 ppg) and sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (11.0). Johnson, Ashley and Hollis-Jefferson are also Arizona's top three rebounders, collectively averaging 18 boards a game.

NOTABLE NOTES
  • Arizona State has a three-game winning streak over WSU, while Arizona has won seven straight over the Cougars.

  • Better odds for WSU to win its game against Arizona in Pullman than Tucson. The Wildcats have won 34 consecutive home games.

  • Also good for WSU that the Cougars don't catch Arizona first on this road trip. The Wildcats are coming off a loss to Arizona State. During the past two seasons following a loss, Arizona won its next game by an average margin of 16.7 points.

  • Arizona guard T.J. McConnell is the Pac-12's career assist leader among active players with 334.

  • Lacy needs 39 points this weekend to crack the 1,500-point mark for his career.

  • Washington State is second in the Pac-12 in free throw shooting this season at .720 (372 of 517). The Cougars are tied for second in league in assist/turnover ratio at 1.2 per game.

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


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