The Washington State Cougars are still seeking their first Pac-12 win as they host the Utah Utes on Sunday (4 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). This will be WSU's first conference game on its home floor, after opening in Arizona and taking on Colorado in Spokane on Wednesday.
WSU came out with one of its best performances of the season against Colorado, shooting well from the outside and playing solid halfcourt defense to hold onto the lead for most of the game. But WSU's offense stalled late, and Colorado's ability to attack in transition was eventually too much for the Cougs to handle in a 71-70 overtime loss.
Even in the loss, it was positive to see WSU come out and play well against a conference opponent after getting thoroughly embarrassed against Arizona and Arizona State. Hopefully for the Cougs, the Colorado game is a sign of things to come and not just a flash in the pan.
There's no doubt the stat is influenced by playing the easiest non-conference schedule in the country, but Utah has hit 2-pointers at a higher percentage than any other team so far this season -- a ridiculous 59 percent as a group.
But it hasn't come against cupcakes alone. Utah leads the Pac-12 in 2-point percentage during conference play as well, hitting on nearly 54 percent. Much of that success can be attributed to 6'5 junior Delon Wright, who has made an otherworldly 76 percent of his 2s -- and that is on 111 shots.
It's clear the Utes thrive on getting easy buckets in the halfcourt -- Utah is 280th nationally in offensive possession length. They are taking it slow, and still getting good shots. That's not an easy thing to do, and requires excellent offensive execution.
Apparently for Utah, it also requires a lot of different set plays, just ask WSU director of player development and all-around awesome guy Tim Marrion:
drawing up utah's offense using @FastModel feeling like i'm writing a novel there are so many sets - http://t.co/itljgkj94q— Tim Marrion (@TimMarrion) January 11, 2014
On the defensive end, the Utes have changed their style a bit in Pac-12 play, or atleast have had a good run of luck in the turnover department. While turnovers forced was a weak point in the non-conference, Utah leads the Pac-12 in turnover percentage and is second in steal percentage during conference games.
Utah's string of good turnover success is likely to continue. WSU has struggled to take care of the ball against Pac-12 teams, turning it over on 21 percent of possession, second-most in the league.
One thing that hasn't changed from the non-conference is Utah's ability to limit free throw attempts, so don't be surprised to see another low free throw output for WSU again.
The Cougs nearly overcame a huge free throw deficit by having a massive advantage from the 3-point line against Colorado. WSU has actually dialed down its 3-point barrage in Pac-12 play, but still leads the league by shooting 3s on 34 percent of field goal attempts.
Utah is second in that category -- but they are 10th in 3-point percentage, hitting just 29 percent against Pac-12 competition. Thanks to a strong effort on Wednesday, the Cougs are now at 37 percent in league play. If WSU can keep Utah at its 3-point average while hitting its own, it has a good shot.
Why? Because the Utes aren't going to overwhelm WSU with transition buckets and drives in the lane to draw fouls. As stated earlier, Utah runs a slow offense and it doesn't get to the free throw line much -- 254th nationally and 11th in conference play.
Utah 62, WSU 60 with 58 percent confidence.