The Washington State Cougars earned their first Pac-12 win of the season when they beat the Utah Utes on Jan. 12, but taking down the Utes will be a much more difficult task in Salt Lake City on Saturday evening (5 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). Utah has been tough at home, where the Utes are 4-1 in Pac-12 play against 0-5 on the road.
Utah's wins at home include a victory over Washington on Thursday, a team the Utes had fallen to on the road.
Despite Utah's excellence at home, WSU does have on thing in their favor: The Cougs did not have DaVonte Lacy when taking down the Utes. Washington State has performed well since Lacy's return two games ago, beating rival Washington and narrowly losing to Colorado on the road.
It was Lacy that nearly beat the Buffaloes by himself, hitting 8 of 13 3s and scoring 34 points. Unfortunately, he got little help from the rest of the team. If WSU is to sweep Utah, it will need more from D.J. Shelton and Que Johnson.
WSU's perimeter-oriented attack, which is amplified with Lacy back, should be beneficial against the Utes. Utah is blocking 2-pointers at the second-highest rate in the conference, and is 6th in 2-point defense. The Utes are just ninth in 3-point defense and allow Pac-12 opponents to shoot 3s at the seventh-highest rate in the league.
But the most glaring weakness in an otherwise solid Utah defense is rebounding. The Utes are last in Pac-12 play in defensive rebounding percentage. WSU attacked the offensive glass more frequently than usual against Washington, and that played a big part in its efficient day. Head coach Ken Bone should consider doing that again.
When Utah has the ball, it will test WSU's interior. Led by Delon Wright, who has hit 67 percent of his 2s on the season, the Utes lead the Pac-12 in 2-point percentage. Wright is also Utah's biggest threat to draw fouls.
The Cougs were able to defend Utah well the first time around, holding the Utes to just 0.81 points per possession. For reference, that is as bad as WSU was offensively in Pac-12 play without Lacy. WSU put out it's best defensive performance of the conference season by forcing tough shots. That happened because Utah may be the only team in the league WSU can match up with athletically.
KenPom.com only gives WSU a 9 percent chance to win, but the Cougs' poor KenPom rating was built mostly while Lacy wasn't around. After two games back, it's pretty clear that Lacy's presence is a boon for WSU's offense. No other Cougar makes shots at the rate Lacy does.
The Utes are still the favorite in this one, especially at home, but the likelihood of a WSU win is much higher than it was two games ago.