USATodaySports/Snook

Hoops: WSU vs. Cal a matter of time and space

ON PAPER it’s a decided mismatch. Washington State (9-17, 1-13) is riding an historic 12-game losing streak. Cal (18-8, 8-5 Pac-12) has won four straight with the Pac-12 title still in play. If the Cougs are to snap the streak on Sunday (TV: ESPNU, 5:30 pm) looking back to the win over then-No. 25 UCLA is a good place to start.

Wazzu moved the ball around the horn exceedingly well against UCLA, forcing the Bruins to continually defend laterally. That tired out an already tired Bruin team (coming off an exhausting game at UW) and the crisp passing led to more open WSU looks: the Cougs shot 55 percent in an 85-78 win on Jan. 3. It was the last time WSU moved the ball that well, and the last time WSU won a game.

The Bears lead the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense (38.9 percent) and scoring defense (67 ppg). But Cal’s win over UW Thursday was their second road win all year. 

And Cal tired badly at UW on Thursday in the final moments, nearly blowing a late 10-point lead. 

WSU doesn’t necessarily have to run Cal up and down the court to tire out the Bears. They can do it just as effectively by forcing the Bears to defend a lot of lateral space, and on each and every Cougar possession.

To do that, WSU must make Cal defend more of the shot clock. 

Walking the ball up and then dawdling 35 feet away from the hoop while precious seconds tick off the shot clock isn’t going to get it done against Cal. 

But if Ernie Kent takes a page out of Mike Leach’s playbook on Sunday, if WSU forces the Cal defense to defend more space and time, WSU can seize the advantage in the second half and down the stretch. 

WSU is a 10-point underdog according to Las Vegas on Senior Day at Washington State.  The Cougs’ two seniors – Junior Longrus and Brett Boese – are expected to start.

NOTABLE NOTES:
Washington State has used 12 different starting lineups in 26 games this season. Ike Iroegbu is the only Cougar to have started all 26 games.

In nine of its past 12 games, Washington State has surrendered at least 79 points.


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