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Thoughts on WSU’s win over Cal in the Pac-12 tournament

And looking ahead to UCLA.

California v Washington State Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Each time Washington State played California, the Cougars were expected to win comfortably. And each time, the game was ... not all that comfortable, including last night’s 66-59 victory in the opener of the Pac-12 tournament.

None of the three games were closer than four points in the end, and, according to kenpom.com, WSU’s win probability didn’t drop below 58% in any of them — meaning, at no point in any of the games was WSU expected to lose, given the relative quality of each team.

WSU also didn’t win any of the games by double digits, which means that it rarely felt like it was as easy as the stats suggested, and that’s largely because of Cal’s style — which is neither effective nor aesthetically pleasing.

To put it bluntly, Mark Fox’s strategy this season has been to ugly things up as much as possible thanks to a roster that’s pretty devoid of talent. The Golden Bears were the slowest-paced team in the conference — by a mile — while also being the second-worst offense in the conference. Only ASU was worse, but the Sun Devils would pass them in the conference efficiency rankings if we take out that insane game against WSU where they scored 29 points.

One might argue that this is the strategy that Dick Bennett employed, and you wouldn’t be wrong, except Dick was able to put together an elite defense in short order. Fox hasn’t done that — he’s just made his team painfully boring.

Unfortunately for this matchup, the Cougs also are pretty deliberate — 9th in the conference in overall tempo and 10th in average offensive possession length. When you put two teams determined to slow it down on offense together, then put the Cougs in a zone for most of the game, then mix in some refs who can’t stop blowing their whistles ... yeah, it’s going to be brutal.

That’s why you just be happy that you survived, and then set your sights on UCLA.

For Cal fans, I assume it has to drive them nuts to watch WSU beat them. Kyle Smith and Fox were hired at the same time, and the two programs are on very different trajectories. I sincerely hope a coaching change is in Cal’s near future, because Fox ain’t it.

Looking ahead to tonight, I’m not totally sure how to feel about WSU’s chances. Kenpom.com calls it 70-63 in favor of the Bruins, who are ranked 8th in his system, with WSU pulling off an upset about 25% of the time. A 1-in-4 shot isn’t bad, especially considering we’ve already lost once!

But that one loss was a train wreck, and while we never play well at Pauley, I’m also concerned that it’s just a really tough matchup for us this year. We obviously played the Bruins tough last season, beating them in Pullman, but while the Bruins are a year more experienced with essentially the same roster, the Cougs are pretty different — particularly on the perimeter.

Where we were running 6-foot-3 and up against UCLA’s plethora of raptor-sized wings, we’re now running out a pair of 6-foot-and-under guards to try and generate offense — and Michael Flowers and Tyrell Roberts both struggled mightily in the Los Angeles. Throw in the fact that UCLA also added a legit rim protector in the offseason ... and this just suddenly looks like a very, very difficult ask for the Cougar offense, which put up a paltry 0.82 points per possession — third-worst of the season.

And then you throw in the fact that Mouhamed Gueye might not be available, and if he is, is probably not 100% ... it just gets harder to figure out how the Cougs will score.

Dishon Jackson being back for this one probably helps. And it also probably helps that Tyger Campbell will play in this one, as weird as that sounds — he’s 5-11, and he sat out the game in LA. Assuming he plays tonight, that’s probably beneficial to the Cougs’ offensive efforts, just on Campbell’s size alone. But WSU likely will need a big effort from the likes of Noah Williams or Andrej Jakimovski to have a legit shot tonight.

LINKS

Tyrell Roberts gives Washington State offense much-needed lift in second half, scores 14 points in 66-59 win over California | Washington State University | khq.com
LAS VEGAS – For more than eight minutes in the second half of a Pac-12 Tournament opener against California, Tyrell Roberts was Washington State’s offensive lifeline.

Washington State grinds out wire-to-wire Pac-12 Tournament win over sloppy-shooting Cal | Washington State University | khq.com
LAS VEGAS – Washington State couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half. Cal couldn’t seem to hit a shot all night.

Washington State never trails, beats Cal in Pac-12 tourney - Washington State University Athletics
LAS VEGAS (AP) Efe Abogidi scored 11 of his 19 points in the first half and No. 7 seed Washington State never trailed in its 66-59 victory over tenth-seeded California

Cal men fall to Washington State in first round of Pac-12 tournament
Cougars hand Bears a 66-59 defeat, Cal's fifth loss in its last six games.

UCLA focused on ‘fresh minds and legs’ to begin Pac-12 Tournament – Daily News

Tyrell Roberts delivers hot hand in second half as WSU men top Cal 66-59 to win Pac-12 opener | The Seattle Times
Washington State will look for its fifth consecutive victory when it faces No. 2-seed UCLA in a Thursday quarterfinal

Cougars Home to Host Colorado, Utah - Washington State University Athletics
Colorado match is set for Friday at 11L30 a.m. from Hollingbery Fieldhouse.

Cougars Ready For Postseason CSCAA National Invite - Washington State University Athletics
The invite begins Thursday in Elkhart, Ind.

Brixey and Johnsen Ready for the 2022 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships - Washington State University Athletics
PULLMAN, Wash.-- Washington State track and field graduate students Sam Brixey and Colton Johnson punched their tickets for the 2022 NCAA Indoor Track and Field

Men's Golf Ends Bandon Dunes Championship Tied for Eighth - Washington State University Athletics
BANDON, Ore. – Freshman Peter Jung finished the 2022 Bandon Dunes Championship in a tie for sixth place Tuesday, March 8, as the Washington State men's golf team

Baseball Opens Pac-12 Play Friday At WSU - Oregon State University Athletics
GAME 11: Oregon State (9-1, 0-0) vs. Washington State (7-5, 0-0)

Washington State never trails, beats Cal in Pac-12 tourney - Washington State University Athletics
LAS VEGAS (AP) Efe Abogidi scored 11 of his 19 points in the first half and No. 7 seed Washington State never trailed in its 66-59 victory over tenth-seeded California

Cal men fall to Washington State in first round of Pac-12 tournament
Cougars hand Bears a 66-59 defeat, Cal's fifth loss in its last six games.

UCLA focused on ‘fresh minds and legs’ to begin Pac-12 Tournament – Daily News

Tyrell Roberts delivers hot hand in second half as WSU men top Cal 66-59 to win Pac-12 opener | The Seattle Times
Washington State will look for its fifth consecutive victory when it faces No. 2-seed UCLA in a Thursday quarterfinal