WSU VS. UW PREVIEW: A Second Look At The Huskies

After Washington State defeated Washington on January 30th, it appeared they were poised to make a run to the NCAA tournament (if this season has taught us anything, it has been to never put too much stock into any individual game).  For Washington, it looked like just another small road bump on the way to their inevitable conference championship.

Things haven't exactly worked out that way.  WSU has been in a bit of a freefall since beating the Huskies, picking up disappointing losses to Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona State.  The ASU loss all but killed any sort of at-large hopes the Cougs may have had.  WSU now is fighting to stay out of the first night of the Pac-10 tournament, as they sit a half-game ahead of Oregon for sixth at the moment.

Washington went on to have a nightmare trip to Oregon and after losing to Arizona last Saturday they find themselves third in the conference standings, needing help in the final weekend to secure a conference crown.  They'll be hungry today, because a loss tonight would mean that UCLA and Arizona would have to be swept next weekend for UW to have a chance.

Let's look at some of the key stats and individual performers.

When the Cougs have the ball...

Washington's biggest defensive weakness in conference play has been free throw rate.  Washington State was able to to exploit that in the first meeting, led by Reggie Moore.

The first match-up with UW was probably Reggie's best performance of the season.  He scored 18 points on just 8 field goal attempts because he was able to get to the line ten times and made 9 of them.  He also had five assists to just two turnovers.  That is what we all like to call "Good Reggie." Let's hope that's the guy that comes out tonight at Hec Ed.

Klay Thompson was also huge, as he destroyed the "Klay Thompson doesn't come to play in big games" mantra once and for all.  He had 25 on 9/18 shooting with four assists.  WSU will need that again from him to pull off the road upset.

WSU was also able to shoot really well (54.8 eFG%) in the first meeting, something they have not done very often in conference play and something UW doesn't generally allow.  Overall the offensive performance was fantastic, with the only thing limiting the rating (still a very good 104.8) being some uncharacteristic misses from the free throw line by Klay in garbage time.

With the expectation that the Cougs will not shoot as well on the road as they did at Friel, free throw rate becomes even more important today.  Reggie, Klay, and Casto especially need to attack the rim and get to the free throw line for WSU to have a chance.

When the Huskies have the ball...

Washington is the best offensive team in the conference.  They are tops in effective field goal percentage and offensive rebounding percentage.  UW takes more threes than any other team (essentially 40% of their field goal attempts) and they are hitting them at a 35.9% clip.  With Isaiah Thomas's ability to drive to the basket and suck in defenders, sharpshooters C.J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs, and Justin Holiday have flourished with open looks.

UW was almost spot on their season average in 3 point field goal percentage in the first meeting, as they hit 11/31 for 35.4%.  The longball was keeping them afloat offensively, as they were completely ineffective inside of the arc, hitting just 12 of 31 shots (hitting 11 threes is like hitting 16.5 twos). 

That struggle inside the arc was largely because WSU was able to bother UW's two best offensive players, Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  MBA was nearly a non-factor offensively, hitting just 1 of 8 shots and amassing only six points.  Thomas was just 1 of 7 inside the arc and turned the ball over seven times.

Aside from the three ball, UW was able to stay in the game because of IT's ability to get to the free throw line.  Thomas is a master of drawing contact and adding a little "flair" to get the call from the officials.  He shot twelve free throws against WSU last time and made 11 of them.

UW also turned the ball over an uncharacteristic amount of times in Pullman.  Led by Thompson's five steals, WSU was able to force the Huskies into a 28.9% TO Rate, well above their 17.9 average in Pac-10 play.

WSU was able to limit the Huskies in two areas in which they generally excel last meeting, TO Rate and 2-point field goal percentage.  Those are the Cougars' two biggest strengths on the defensive end, and they are going to need to duplicate that performance tonight.

Overall...

Kenpom predicts UW to win this one going away, 85-72 with 88% confidence.  WSU absolutely needs Reggie Moore to step up in front of his friends and family, but he is not the only one.  It will take an extra-special effort from a lot of guys for WSU to go in and win at Hec Ed, a place where UW does not lose very often.

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