This week in WSU hoops: LA awaits Cougs

FOUR REGULAR SEASON GAMES and the Pacific-12 tournament remain on Washington State's 2014-15 basketball schedule, which leads to the question: Do the Cougars have at least one more win in them for this season?

It's a difficult stretch, but certainly not impossible to find a win. USC and UCLA this week on the road, followed by the home series finale against Utah and Colorado, then a team to be determined in the Pac-12 tourney.

For starters, the Cougars haven't lost five consecutive games this season, so an 0-5 finish would be unprecedented. This team isn't prone to long slumps, though it lost 6 of 7 midway through the league season. But even during that stretch, there were near wins vs. California and Oregon State, plus a win over Stanford.

But as always with Washington State this season, the result comes down to defense. Generally speaking, the Cougars have enough offense to beat several Pac-12 teams. But defense is this team's downfall; after all, how do you shoot 55 percent and lose to a Washington team that has lost seven consecutive games?

It's defense.

Obviously, the defense hasn't been great throughout the league season, but it's been better in victory. In WSU's Pac-12's wins, it has held opponents to .453 shooting overall and .342 from 3-point range. In the Cougars' league losses, the percentages rise to .502 overall and .380 against 3-pointers.

It's a slim margin, but Washington State margin of victory in Pac-12 victories are 1, 3, 3, 3 and overtime. Defense has made a difference in those games.

The week ahead: The Cougars (11-15, 5-9) have a long week ahead, starting with a 7 p.m. Wednesday game at USC (10-17, 2-13). Four days later at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, WSU completes its Los Angeles road trip against UCLA (16-12, 8-7). The USC game is televised by the Pac-12 Network, while UCLA is shown on Fox Sports 1.

On paper, USC looks to be Washington State's best chance for a win during the season's final games. The Trojans are mired in last place, and appear destined for the No. 12 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, unless they sweep the Washington schools. USC's only league wins this season have come against California and Oregon State, both at home.

Moreover, WSU isn't hopeless on the road. The Cougars won two of their first three Pac-12 road games, and played competitively in a loss at Oregon State.

But USC isn't the free square that it appears. The Trojans look a lot like the Ken Bone Cougars of 2013-14, a team that was in it to win it with five minutes to go, only to lose. Nine of the USC's 13 league losses are by single-digit margins, and it's coming off a 64-59 loss at Arizona State. At home, the Trojans are 2-5 in league, with three losses by five points or less.

The Trojans' top player is 6-foot-11 sophomore forward Nikola Jovanovic, who leads USC in scoring (12.7 points) and rebounds (7.1 ppg). Also averaging in double digits is sophomore guard Katin Reinhardt (12.0 ppg). To watch is sophomore forward Darion Clark (6.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg).

Freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who is averaging 12.1 points and 4.5 assists a game, hasn't played in two weeks because of a shoulder injury. Elijah Stewart has been starting in his place, and scored a Pac-12 season-high 19 against Oregon State. Sophomore guard Kahlil Dukes came off the bench and scored 18 points against Arizona State.

The second game of the trip is against puzzling UCLA. The Bruins were cast aside earlier this season after losing five consecutive games, a streak that includes blowout losses to Kentucky (83-44) and Utah (71-39). But the Bruins started to play better midway through the Pac-12 season as they won five of six games, the lone loss a two-pointer to California. Two weeks ago, the Bruins were dominant in sweeping the Oregon schools at home, but come into this week off two road losses to the Arizona schools.

At the moment, ESPN's Bracketology has UCLA in the NCAA tournament, but clearly, the Bruins are on the bubble. They can't afford a home loss to Washington State. Pauley Pavilion has been good to UCLA this season, as they're 13-1 at home, the lone loss coming in December to No. 3 Gonzaga.

This is not a deep UCLA team - coach Steve Alford tends to play his starters long minutes. It shows up statistically, as the Bruins have five players score in double figures, and it drops dramatically from there.

Senior guard Norman Powell leads UCLA in scoring at 15.8 points a game, followed by guard Bryce Alford (15.6 ppg) and forward Kevon Looney (12.4 ppg). Looney leads UCLA's rebounding attack at 9.5 per game.

UCLA and USC are two of the Pac-12's three worst shooting teams, at .426 and .417 from the field, respectively. The Bruins are the Pac-12's top rebounding team at 38.8 per game, and third in steals at 6.6 per game.

  • If the Pac-12 tournament started today, Washington State would be the No. 10 seed and play Arizona State in the first round. The Sun Devils are one of five teams the Cougars have beaten this season.

  • The Cougars are currently tied for ninth with Colorado in the Pac-12. With four games remaining, WSU appears to be in the mix for Pac-12 tourney seeds No. 8 through 11.

  • WSU senior DaVonte Lacy needs four 3-pointers to pass Klay Thompson as the school's all-time 3-point king. Thompson made 242 career 3s, while Lacy has 239.

  • Sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson has made 27 consecutive free throws, four short of the school record held by Thomas Kelati during the 2003-04 season.

    Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at

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