Life doesn't get much easier for WSU basketball as the Cougars (9-14, 1-10 Pac-12) hit the road for one of the more difficult trips of the conference schedule.
Before traveling to Salt Lake City for a Valentine's Day matchup with Utah, the Cougars will be trying to avenge loss No. 5 in their current nine-game losing tonight when they visit Colorado.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. PT, and the game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network and streaming online at Pac-12.com. You can also listen to Matt Chazanow's call on the Washington State IMG Sports Network via TuneIn.com.
Last time these two teams met, WSU had a chance down the stretch thanks to Ike Iroegbu's heroics; he scored 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting, keeping the Cougars within striking distance. Unfortunately, his potentially game-tying three-pointer in the final moments was off the mark and the Buffaloes escaped with a 75-70 victory.
However, this is a different -- and probably weaker -- WSU team that now tries to pull off a victory away from Pullman, which is a tall enough task on its own; the Cougars have won just one game on a surface other than Friel Court and are 0-5 in true road games, having been outscored by an average margin of 83-67. (Colorado, by the way, has lost just once at home and boasts a nice win there over Oregon.)
The frontcourt is a mess of injuries at the moment for WSU. Josh Hawkinson missed Saturday's loss to Arizona State with a leg injury, and there's been no update to his status. Additionally, Conor Clifford -- who has had his struggles this season, but played very well in the first matchup, scoring 18 -- left the ASU loss after suffering what appeared to be a nasty ankle injury, and Junior Longrus played through a groin injury.
About the only guy who looked like he came out of Saturday's game unscathed is Valentine Izundu ... who played a near-season-high 24 minutes in his first game action in a month, so who knows how he has recovered from that.
The reason why this matters is because Colorado is uniquely positioned to punish any team that can't matchup around the basket. WSU did a nice job containing Josh Scott the first time around (just 11 points and 8 rebounds when he averages 17 and 9), but it's hard to imagine that happening if the Cougs have to go as small as they did against ASU for long stretches.
And it's not just Scott WSU has to worry about, as Colorado is the top offensive rebounding team in the conference. WSU might not have much of a chance to contain the Buffs if Hawkinson doesn't play, however, Ernie Kent's interview with Chazanow before ASU made it sound like his staff was anticipating Hawkinson's absence to be brief. Let's hope so, because whatever slim chances the Cougs have of beating Colorado probably will be significantly impacted by his status.
That's probably not even WSU's biggest challenge, though. The Buffaloes have posted the conference's best defense on a per-possession basis in league play (1.00), while the Cougars have posted the league's worst offense on a per-posession basis in league play (0.96).
If you pause and think about those two numbers for a moment, that gives you some context as to just how bad the WSU offense is compared to its peers, and is probably the biggest reason why this is probably going to be another difficult game for WSU. Even if the Cougs can limit Scott, and even if Colorado's fabulous long-distance shooting -- 39.9 percent on the season, 15th nationally -- has an off night ... will it even matter if the Cougs struggle to score more than 60 points?
Ken Pomeroy's laptop predicts a 79-67 Colorado victory, giving WSU a roughly 1-in-10 chance of winning the game.
Hey, there's always the one, right? Go Cougs!