Washington State takes on the Arizona Wildcats for the second time in 20 days tonight at 6 pm in Beasley Coliseum. The Wildcats had little trouble with WSU the first time around, cruising to an easy 85-61 victory at home.
The problem with previewing the same team twice within three weeks is that all the players are the same and the stats haven't much changed. This is the case for Arizona, except that they've been able to have more success in the win column as of late.
After a narrow loss to the Washington Huskies on January 28th that dropped them to 5-4 and presumably left them out of the conference title picture, Arizona has been able to reel off four straight wins. Thanks to an impressive road sweep of the Bay Area schools followed by wins over Colorado and Utah at home, Arizona now sits just one game behind the conference leaders, with a chance to avenge their loss to UW this Saturday.
The Wildcats have been at the top of the conference in efficiency margin all season, so it was very likely that the time would come when their record represented their actual talent level. Their four Pac-12 losses have come by a combined 12 points. With the Los Angeles schools at home and ASU to close out the season, if UA can get through this weekend unscathed, their chances of running the table in the second half of league play are looking good.
Some quick offense and defense previews after the jump.OFFENSE
Since this all happened a few weeks ago, let's check on the accuracy of the last preview. First the rebounding:
The offensive preview usually starts with shooting but there is one important aspect of Arizona that may come as a relief: They don't care all that much about crashing the offensive glass. Below is an estimation of the average Coug fan's reaction to this news (and an accurate representation of the leaping ability of the WSU frontline).
There are still players that can cause trouble on the offensive glass - specifically Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry - but Sean Miller won't be sending extra men in towards the boards to procure a second-chance opportunity.
In the first game, Arizona grabbed 34% of offensive rebounds.That is the 4th-highest total of any of the Cougs' Pac-12 opponents. Hill and Perry did end up doing the most work on the glass, grabbing four offensive rebounds each. WSU will have to do a better job of locating those two this time around.
How about with shooting?
The most dangerous three-point threats are Kyle Fogg and Nick Johnson (as well as Brendon Lavender, who plays a small percentage of the minutes). Fogg is having his best year from beyond the arc, knocking down 43% of his threes so far. Johnson is hitting on 36%. As a team, Arizona shoots the 64th most threes (relative to total field goal attempts). Expect lots of jumpers.
There were plenty of jumpers indeed. Arizona shot 26 threes and that accounted for 44% of their three-point attempts. They shot extremely well on those threes, knocking down 15. That alone was probably too much for the Cougs to overcome. Fogg and Lavender combined to go 8-11 from downtown and Hill chipped in as well, going 3-4. Johnson spared the Cougs, knocking down just 1-4.
Odds are that Ken Bone and his coaching staff have made defending a three-point line a priority this week, it will be interesting to see if it will improve.
Arizona typically gets to the free throw line often, but didn't much in the first game. This had a lot to do with them settling for more jumpers come garbage time in lieu of driving to the basket. If the game is closer, look for more free throw attempts.
WSU has much to change on defense if they are going to pull the upset this time around.
Arizona has been the most efficient defensive team in Pac-12 play. They are holding opponents just a hair under 0.9 points per possession. They were able to hold Oregon State, one of the conference's best offense's. to just around one point per trip.
They are still the best and they held WSU to their worst offense efficiency in conference play. Losing leading scorer Faisal Aden in the first half certainly didn't help the Cougs. They've had five games to adjust at this point, so improvement is to be expected.
What can they improve on? From the first preview:
The Wildcats hold down opponents primarily in two ways: locking down the outside and securing misses. Opponents have shot just 27% from three this season, good for 7th lowest in the country. The opposition has only grabbed 29% of available offensive rebounds, which is 54th nationally.
Arizona held WSU to 4-21 from three and 26% of available offensive rebounds. Hard to do well on offense with those numbers unless you are efficient in twos and getting to the free throw line.
As impressive as those numbers are, they don't spell doom for the Cougar offense. Teams have shot 56% of their field goal attempts from inside the arc against Arizona, and UA has been only average in defending the two. WSU has had great success from inside, hitting 53% of two-point attempts on the season. If Aden continues his trend of attacking the basket, then Wazzu will rely even less on the three than they have been.
WSU shot more threes than they typically do, but they also did poorly inside the arc, making just 14 of 31 two-point attempts. The only thing the Cougs did well, led by Brock Motum, was get to the free throw line. Brock is going to have to do even more this time around if Wazzu is going to succeed.
Arizona is hot, but the Cougs are playing better basketball than they were a few weeks ago. This game certainly will be closer than the first match-up. Can WSU do enough to spoil Arizona's chances at a conference title?